By Obaid Khan, Humanitas Global
In the backdrop of Sustainable Development Goals, a global consensus emerged on eliminating HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases by 2030. However, the consensus over viral hepatitis was on combating, not eliminating the disease. On World Hepatitis Day (July 28th), it is worth asking: Is there a global sense of responsibility for 1.5 million people that die each year from Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E?
The major modes of transmission for viral hepatitis include contaminated food and water, exchange of blood or other bodily fluids, unsafe injections and/or sub-standard sterilization of medical equipment. As in any other disease, there are multiple challenges and binding constraints associated with combating the epidemic. A whole host of factors, other than the viral and immunological determinants, can be predictive of high incidence and prevalence of viral hepatitis. A CDC report attributes health disparities in viral hepatitis to social and economic determinants. Lack of awareness is a strong underlying factor for high hepatitis incidence and transmission as an estimate 95% of people with hepatitis don’t know about their infection. Transmission trends were explored more in depth in one of our previous blogs, which can be read here.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that 2 million people contract hepatitis each year due to unsafe injections and 780,000 people die each year from Hepatitis B. One must bear in mind that vaccines have been developed for Hepatitis A and B. However, no vaccines are available for Hepatitis C and E, except a few candidate vaccines. One can argue that the progress on the innovations frontier to combat and eliminate is lackluster. This gap can be attributed to the aforementioned determinants, but more importantly it is to the dearth of concerted campaigns to raise awareness about viral hepatitis in the global community. Campaigns and advocacy have yielded great results in the fight against and elimination of many diseases. The decade of 1950s was termed as an ‘Era of the Mass Disease Campaign’. The campaigns led tothe fight against yaws through mobilization of global health workers , testing of 3.5 million children for TB in mid-1950s worldwide, wide-scale treatment of trachoma through anti-bacterial ointment and DDT spraying to combat malaria.
These initiatives did not emerge in a vacuum, but were a result of advocacy campaigns grounded in the instrumental role of global concerted efforts. Publicly renowned figures can play a crucial part in advocating a reinvigorated focus on viral hepatitis as a global concern and bring its elimination as an agenda into the limelight. Celebrities, like Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney and Stephen Fry, have helped garner worldwide attention for HIV/AIDS epidemic, cancer patients and mental health respectively. The question remains: Who will champion the cause of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030?
Today, the World Hepatitis Alliance with a number of civil society organizations has answered that question through launch of a global movement called “NOhep” to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. NOhep’s objective is to raise and build awareness of the disease and the role people can play from the household level and up. This movement succeeds the recently adopted WHO Global Health Sector Strategy for Viral Hepatitis, where 194 Member States agreed to a goal of eliminating hepatitis B and hepatitis C by 2030. NOhep will serve as a global umbrella platform for people everywhere to learn more, take action, and ensure global commitments are fulfilled and hepatitis is eliminated.
Join the movement to eliminate viral hepatitis and become a champion for good health and well-being for the global community.