I’ve been producing television for more than 40 years, but I’m a relative newcomer to QUEST. I’ve done four pieces so far for the series, and each segment has been a reminder of why I do what I do. I’ve grown from all I’ve learned in researching the topics, doing my best to grasp the ideas and articulate them clearly so others can grasp the content, which is often complex and steeped in a vocabulary all its own. What’s more, I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories that have meaning to people’s lives, and stories with new and hopeful developments.
I came to realize that hope has a lot to do with science. It’s the driving force for those who seek cures, for those who work to protect the environment, for those who search for solutions to the pain and problems facing humanity. I’ve seen excitement and passion in the eyes of scientists when they talk about the difference their research can make in the world.
So it was the human element and the promising science that made “Hepatitis C: The Silent Epidemic” a piece that moved me and will stay with me. The human impact of a story gives it power. So as a producer, I always look for those who are most affected and those who are left out.
One of a number of encouraging sides in the fight to contain and prevent the spread of HCV is the development of the San Francisco Task Force on Hepatitis C and I had the privilege of attending one of their meetings. From patients dealing daily with the potentially deadly liver disease to doctors and community advocates, the room was full of committed and good-hearted people with a range of backgrounds and expertise.
As members of the Task Force talked about what needs to be done to stem the spread of the disease and to develop public awareness campaigns, one of the two African-Americans at the meeting talked about the disproportionate impact of hepatitis C in the black community. She urged the task force to make a concerted effort to reach out to African-Americans. I sensed her frustration as the discussion continued with little or no response to her concerns and afterward I followed her out into the lobby to talk about it.
I must say that everyone we interviewed for this piece shared the concern about the high rates of HCV among African-Americans and expressed agreement on the necessity of developing strategies targeting Black people and particularly African-American men. At the same time, I know that many problems that affect society in general have the most devastating affects on communities of color, and I’m aware that these communities are often underserved or ignored. So I identified with her frustration and was determined to include information on race and hep C in the segment for QUEST. It turns out that her concerns were justified and the facts she presented were accurate and cause for alarm.
African-Americans have the highest rate of hepatitis C in the United States. Hep C is almost twice as common among African-Americans as among Caucasians. And current treatments are ineffective for 70 to 80 percent of black people who are infected with the virus. The rates for Latinos are also high and there are numerous factors that add to the elevated incidence of HCV in communities of color including lack of health care coverage and diet. The alarming rate of hepatitis C among prisoners is also a contributing factor. I recently did a segment on prisons for another KQED program, (This Week In Northern California) and was reminded of the disproportionate number of black and Latino men in California prisons where the HCV infection rates often run as high as 80%. As these inmates are released and return to their cities, neighborhoods and families, they can contribute to the spread of the hep C virus.
The fight to prevent HCV and to find a cure for the disease is woefully under funded, public awareness of the epidemic is minimal, and myths and misinformation about hepatitis C are common. Education and public awareness campaigns that are culturally sensitive and that target specific communities will be critical to stemming the epidemic. And when more effective treatments are developed, keeping the medicine affordable will also be key to eradicating the disease.
Considering how little I knew about hepatitis C before producing this segment and how much I have learned from doing it, I am anxiously awaiting the outcome of the groundbreaking scientific research to find a cure. The predictions are promising and give me hope. I can use some hope. My daughter is African-American, in her mid-forties and has liver disease.