Dr. Yasir Waheed is the founding president of Bridging Health Foundation (BHF), an Islamabad-based NGO working for the elimination of viral hepatitis in Pakistan. An Assistant Professor at Foundation University Islamabad and with a PHD degree in Virology, Yasir is an expert in his field. With a long-term interest in hepatitis, he has had over 50 peer reviewed journal articles published and written research papers on Hepatitis B, C and E.
When asked about what elimination would mean to him Yasir says;
“It will be a dream come true that Pakistan achieves the targets in the Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis”.
There are 7.1 million hepatitis C cases in Pakistan, covering 10% of the global hepatitis C burden. And, according to a 2016 World Health Organisation report on hepatitis treatment, in 2016 only 161,000 hepatitis patients in Pakistan received treatment, and most of these were through the private sector. Many cannot afford to get screened by themselves or seek treatment, therefore 90% of cases are not diagnosed and treated. Which is why the work being done by Yasir and his team at Bridging Health Foundation (BHF) is so important.
Yasir is a formidable supporter of NOhep, through his organisation he is spreading the NOhep message of elimination across Pakistan, reaching even the most rural and displaced communities. As such, we wanted to shine a light on the incredible work he and his organisation are doing to reduce incidences of hepatitis infection and mortality, as well as increase hepatitis awareness, reduce mother-child transmission and increase diagnosis and treatment of those infected.
BHF’s awareness raising and screening activities have caught the public’s eye and the use of NOhep branding in all their campaigns and activities have helped their work stand out. They find the NOhep movement a good global platform for their hepatitis advocacy work.
As part of their advocacy strategy BHF target different population groups in Pakistan. This includes people who inject drugs, as well as pregnant women, homeless people, refugees, healthcare workers, school children, students and barbers. When developing their advocacy strategy, BHF start by researching and finding high-risk communities and population groups. They then set their targets, develop their plan and start working. They take care to always evaluate their work at the end and monitor their impact.
There are a number of barriers to overcome to eliminate viral hepatitis, first and foremost the missing millions must be found and armed with preventative measures and treatments. With refugees being some of the most marginalised peoples on earth, targeting them therefore is an important step.
In order to reach such at risk groups, Yasir has launched various campaigns and activities, from hosting screening sessions at the refugee camps in Pakistan, including Naili camp, Ambore camp and Rara camp, to visiting motor mechanics and a village school in Rawalpindi, to raise awareness in the community. All the while ensuring that no one is left behind in the mission to meet the 2030 target to eliminate viral hepatitis.
To support their advocacy strategy to raise awareness of hepatitis, BHF conduct surveys across different population groups in Pakistan. The important thing for BHF is building a chain reaction and response, and so they look to motivate participants to spread the messages raised to everyone they know. For this they particularly focus on students, barbers, beauty salon and healthcare workers.
Yasir, himself, has also been evaluating different rapid test kits available in Pakistan for the screening of hepatitis. In doing this, they are able to discern which test kits work, and so make sure that their screening sessions are effective and that they are arming others in Pakistan with viable means to screen people too. “It’s not enough to simply screen people for viral hepatitis, they must also be linked to care and receive the treatment they desperately need”, he says.
That’s why BHF are currently working on increasing treatment rates by evaluating response rates of different direct acting antiviral drugs. They also motivate and guide hepatitis positive patients to get treatment, a really important step in breaking down the stigma which stops so many infected people from seeking the healthcare they need.
A vocal advocate for change, Yasir also speaks out and campaigns for people living with viral hepatitis, putting pressure on decision makers by attending different national and global events. At these he highlights BHF and the work they are doing to eliminate hepatitis.
When asked what he believes is needed for us to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030 he replied; “Viral hepatitis cannot be eliminated without the engagement of multi stake holders including medical professionals, patients, civil society, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies and the government… All the major societies in Pakistan should engage patients and NGOs working on hepatitis in their annual meetings and also listen to their experiences in the fight against hepatitis.”
Local and grassroots organisations such as BHF are therefore so important in efforts to ensure viral hepatitis is eliminated by 2030. Their work is making a massive difference achieving this in Pakistan and so it is our pleasure to celebrate it. Yasir feels that it’s important to stress that no matter what you are doing to raise awareness of hepatitis in your community, “No initiative is small. We need many people doing small initiatives for elimination of hepatitis in their communities”.
Thank you Yasir and Bridging Health Foundation for your inspirational work.
To support national advocacy efforts, we’ve created a toolkit for patient organisations, NGOs and individuals working in the field of viral hepatitis. This resource has been created to help you shape your own advocacy strategy to advance action to the 2030 goals.
The toolkit is going to be launched on Thursday 24th May, sign up to NOhep to be one of the first to get your hands on a copy!