New research from the World Hepatitis Alliance reveals why 9 in 10 people living with viral hepatitis are unaware of their status
Two years ago, 194 countries committed to the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. By adopting the World Health Organization’s Global health sector strategy on viral hepatitis, governments finally recognised the disease as a significant global health threat and welcomed the opportunity to wipe out a disease that claims more than one million lives every year.
Two years on, progress is slow. At the World Hepatitis Alliance we believe that diagnosis in particular remains one of the biggest barriers to elimination and very few countries are on track to meet the 2020 interim target of 30% of people living with hepatitis B and C diagnosed. Right now, of the 325 million people living with viral hepatitis worldwide, more than 290 million are still unaware. That’s 9 out of 10 men, women and children going about their daily lives completely oblivious to the fact that they are at risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer. Without finding these millions of people and linking them to care, we know that all other efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis will have only marginal success.
To address this we commissioned a global survey to ascertain the main barriers to hepatitis B and C diagnosis. The findings revealed that the five main barriers are:
- Lack of public knowledge of the diseases;
- Lack of knowledge of viral hepatitis among healthcare professionals;
- Lack of easily accessibly testing;
- Stigma and discrimination; and
- Out-of-pocket costs for the population.
The survey findings informed a two-day stakeholder consultation meeting where global experts discussed how to overcome these barriers. Throughout the meeting, to me the resounding message was clear: governments must act immediately in each of the areas above and must adopt a multi-stakeholder response. A set of recommendations to tackle the diagnosis gap were captured in a white paper which launches on World Hepatitis Day (28 July 2018).
As we embark on the quest to find the missing millions, our white paper will act as a roadmap, highlighting actions to be prioritised such as integrating targeted hepatitis testing strategies into existing services, making testing affordable and combating stigma and discrimination.
I firmly believe that the inclusion of civil society and the affected community in every step along the way will be fundamental to the success of our efforts. Governments that recognise people living with viral hepatitis as vital partners will reap the rewards. From bringing unique perspectives and experiences to the table to helping identify gaps in services and keeping governments accountable, the inclusion of civil society ensures an enhanced and equitable response to this epidemic.
Whether you are a policy maker, medical professional or patient, everyone has a role to play in finding the missing millions and to support individuals and organisations’ efforts. World Hepatitis Day also marks the launch of our Find the Missing Millions campaign. This is a three-year global awareness-raising and advocacy campaign aimed at scaling-up the response by bringing people together to work on solutions for the diagnosis problem. On July 28, join our initiative and help us reach our common goal of elimination!