Just the Beginning
Taylor constantly draws comparisons between hepatitis C and HIV, but for all their similarities in population and transmission, the public health response has been entirely different. She cites the federal government’s Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program that ensures treatment for patients. No such funding program exists for hep C. On the research side, no single institute in the National Institutes of Health is responsible for funding hepatitis research. Only 2 percent of the CDC’s budget is earmarked for hep C.
Since the majority of her patients are coinfected with hep C and HIV, Taylor has been able to fund her research mostly through grants designated for HIV research. Hepatitis C is much more aggressive in coinfected people and they see its consequences earlier than people who do not have HIV. For more than a decade, she has studied the best ways to treat both viruses in people with addiction, and with concomitant mental illness.
Last year, funded by a private grant through the Rhode Island Foundation, she launched RI Defeats Hep C. She describes it as a service grant “to implement planning to help our state.” It’s a comprehensive program, encompassing health care delivery; raising awareness; getting more people screened and diagnosed, then treated and cured; building infrastructure for a sustainable model for all of this; and creating the best business case for doing it.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year she was named the Rhode Island Woman Physician of the Year, and received the Excellence in Medicine Award from the state Department of Health. But there’s still much work to be done.
So much has happened just in the last year: the CDC sounded the alarm and recommended screening, new drugs have made this a curable illness. It’s all just so new, Taylor says. “How do you take an issue from the margins to the center?”
She’ll likely do it with the mix of warmth and tenacity she’s known for. Sylvestre, who has become Taylor’s colleague and friend, says she watched Taylor pick up bagels and leftover breakfast foods at the end of an American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases meeting last year. “She put them in her AASLD bag, walked outside, and gave them to the homeless people out on the street,” she says. “That’s just so emblematic of Lynn.”