World Hepatitis Day: Eliminating Hepatitis by 2030
World Hepatitis Day (WHD) was established in 2008 to bring awareness and help encourage the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of viral hepatitis worldwide. Having grown from a small number of advocates in 47 countries to millions of supporters in almost every country, World Hepatitis Day has acquired the necessary strategic partnerships and creative outreach initiatives to help the World Health Organization (WHO) reach its goal of eliminating the virus by 2030.
The theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day is “Find the Missing Millions.” There are currently an approximate 325 million people living with either viral hepatitis B or C, and roughly 290 million who are unaware they are living with the hepatitis infection at all.
What is Hepatitis?
It is the inflammation of the liver tissue, commonly caused by a virus. There are five types of viral hepatitis:
- Type A
- Transmitted by eating food or drinking water with infected feces
- After a single infection, the person is immune for the rest of their lives
- 114 million infections globally
- More common in developing countries where poor sanitation and a lack of safe water is prevalent
- Type B
- Transmitted through exposure to infected blood or body fluids containing blood
- The infection can either be acute (self-limiting, which clears within weeks) or chronic. More than 95% of people who become infected as adults will fully recover and become immune to the virus
- Approximately 257 million infections globally
- More common in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa
- Type C
- Transmitted by blood-to-blood contact, poorly sterilized needles, and infected transfusions
- In many cases, the immune system self-treats the infection, but for those who can’t clear the infection, oral medications can cure hepatitis C in almost all patients
- 71 million people globally have chronic hepatitis C
- Complications from chronic cases can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer
- Type D
- Hepatitis D can only exist in the presence of the hepatitis B infection
- It shares many of the treatment characteristics of hepatitis B since it is a coinfection disease
- Common in areas of South America, West Africa, Russia, Pacific Islands, and Central Asia
- Type E
- Transmitted by consuming fecal-contaminated water/food
- Medication treatment is rarely required. Similar to hepatitis A, it resolves spontaneously but can be severe/fatal in pregnant or immunosuppressed patients
- 20 million outbreaks occur each year
- Common in Central Asia, but growing outbreaks have been documented in Central America and the Middle East
While all five types of hepatitis have contributed to it becoming a global epidemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) is focused on diagnosing those infected with type B and C to raise their chances for treatment and to promote prevention for others. Of the millions suffering from viral hepatitis B and C, it is estimated only 11% have been officially diagnosed. WHO is working to increase that percentage to 30% by 2020 and to reach 90% by 2030.
One reason the diagnosis percentage is currently so low for hepatitis B and C is that many countries do not have the resources to help people learn their status. Over the course of the next two years, there will be an extra push to raise awareness, influence national testing policies, and encourage people to get screened or become advocates in the journey to find the undiagnosed.
The first step in raising awareness is to partner with other organizations that have the resources and share similar goals, which includes the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA). The World Hepatitis Alliance plans to improve the lives of those living with hepatitis by:
- Increasing funding for global and national programs
- Giving a voice to those living with viral hepatitis
- Educational webinars that address key topics in the areas of access to diagnostics and medicines
- Member evaluations to strengthen engagement between WHA and advocates/people with the virus
- Reintroducing the Wall of Stories section on its website and launching a series of video stories to serve as reminders of those living with the disease
- Building and fostering more strategic partnerships
WHA funding comes primarily from foundations or pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies. As advocates fight for financial support, they must also do it while explaining to potential donors the importance of supporting the eradication of viral hepatitis.
In countries like Nigeria and Colombia, there is an increased level of support from government officials to finance and explore the necessary resources needed to fund local hepatitis C programs. These programs include capacity building activities, assistance in designing and implementing country-specific advocacy campaigns, and building relationships between key stakeholders in both WHO regional and local offices, as well as regional government offices.
People living with viral hepatitis have an essential role in the elimination of the virus because they have first-hand knowledge of the illness and how it impacts people on a day-to-day basis. Multiple platforms will be used including, but not limited to:
WHA currently works with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Association for the Study of the Liver, International Drug Policy Consortium, and other outlets who recognize how necessary it is to contain this disease.
The fight to end viral hepatitis did not start, nor does it stop, on World Hepatitis Day. The professionals at Texas Digestive Disease Consultants are committed to bringing more awareness to those unsure about their health status, while providing treatment resources for those who are infected. If you or someone you know would like more information on hepatitis advocacy, treatment, and prevention, visit our website at https://www.tddctx.com/.