"The personal story of Aleksey Lakhov”- Russia
More than 1.1 million deaths per year are caused by hepatitis B and C infections. Yet hepatitis is preventable and curable. Here is the story of a person who managed to overcome chronic hepatitis B and C to give you hope for the future – and plan actions for today.
In 1999, I was nineteen years old, and I was studying to be a public relations specialist. It was a time when literally everything seemed possible. Maybe that is why I also remember 1999 as the year when I first injected heroin. A year later, I found out that I was infected with hepatitis B and C.
In 2005, after multiple overdoses, incidents with law enforcement and broken relationships, I went through several rehabs, started to visit self-help groups and learned how to stay clean.
In 2008, the first symptoms of chronic hepatitis appeared – fatigue, loss of interest in anything and anyone, mental fog. I signed up for a treatment program. This was a standard interferon therapy: three injections a week plus pills every day. The medications worked – I was cured of hepatitis C (but not of hepatitis B).
In 2015, I started to work in the field of viral hepatitis prevention and treatment. As a peer counselor on the free-of-charge hotline of a community-based NGO United Against Hepatitis, I received over 700 calls from patients and their loved ones. In addition, I appeared in the media as a person openly living with chronic hepatitis and participated in information campaigns. I joined campaigns from the WHO European Office and the World Hepatitis Alliance, advocating for access to hepatitis treatment and prevention at the country level.
Also, I did not forget about my chronic hepatitis B and had tests every six months. In 2017, my doctor said that my viral load was increasing, and prescribed me a medication: tenofovir.
In December 2020, my tests came back negative. At first, I did not believe it. Did I get into the 5% of people who managed to achieve a functional cure for chronic hepatitis B during their lifetime? Later tests confirmed that my HBsAg had indeed become undetectable, and that I achieved an anti-HBs seroconversion for good measure. My doctor plans to wean me off tenofovir this year.
Personal experience shaped me as an activist and helped me get involved with dozens of NGOs and patients in our country who want to stop hepatitis in its tracks. Our incessant advocacy work bore fruit – in April 2021, Russia’s president gave the order to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030. It took us more than six years to get there and yet we think that this work has just begun.
As for the plan of actions for today, it is very simple: get tested and start treatment if you need it. Hepatitis B is preventable with a safe and effective vaccine. Hepatitis C can be cured. These simple actions will allow us to achieve a hepatitis-free world together!