Worldwide, more than 290 million people are completely unaware that they are living with a life-threatening illness. Without drastically increasing diagnosis of hepatitis B and C and linking people to treatment and care, we will fail to eliminate a global killer.
Hepatitis B and C are life-threatening infectious diseases that can cause serious liver damage, cancer and premature death. They are also silent epidemics with those in the first stages of infection showing little to no symptoms. This often means that people don’t know they are infected until it is too late and can sometimes unknowingly transmit the disease on. No one should have to live with this disease without knowing. However, without a massive scale-up in screening, diagnosis and linkage to care and treatment, more people will become infected and lives will continue to be lost.
Two years ago, 194 countries committed to eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030 signing up to the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis (GHSS). Increasing diagnosis was deemed essential to reaching elimination. People can only access treatment if they’re aware they’re living with the illness. So countries committed to targets of diagnosing 30% of persons infected with hepatitis B and C by 2020 and then 90% by 2030.
With just two years to go until the interim 2020 target deadline, we are now at a critical point in the race to elimination. Diagnosis rates are woefully low and action is unacceptably slow. Globally, only 11% of those living with viral hepatitis are aware of their status – 19% shy of the 2020 target. What’s more, currently only 21 countries worldwide have met or exceeded the 2020 target of 30% of people living with hepatitis B diagnosed and 38 countries for hepatitis C¹. Countries which have successfully reached these targets are also heavily concentrated within specific regions. Whilst 23 European countries have diagnosed 30% or more hepatitis C infected persons, no African country has¹.
But, we can turn this around. A recent survey by the World Hepatitis Alliance identified the key barriers to diagnosis as: lack of public knowledge of the disease; lack of knowledge of the disease amongst healthcare professionals; lack of easily accessible testing; stigma and discrimination; and the out-of-pockets costs to the patients. Armed with this knowledge, we can act accordingly.
From raising awareness to advocating for accessible and affordable testing, we all have a role to play. If you are a medical professional, educate your peers and speak out about elimination – our NOhep Guide for Medical Professionals is your go-to resource for guidance. Are you an activist fighting hepatitis on-the-ground? Use the Race to 2030: accelerating action at a national level NOhep Advocacy Toolkit to help you build a strategy to demand that your government increases access to testing. Perhaps you’re a member of the public, stunned by the statistics? Go out and get tested and share the info you’ve learnt with your friends and family. Take part in our World Hepatitis Day campaign to highlight the shocking state of global hepatitis diagnosis by sharing our social media graphics and using the hashtags #WorldHepatitisDay and #FindtheMissingMillions.
Add your voice to our efforts to find the missing millions and eliminate this global killer. Together, we are louder!
¹ World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA), London, 2018. Available from: http://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/find-missing-millions. Accessed 26.07.2018.