World Hepatitis Day: Treatment as Key Prevention Strategy

28 July 2017

According to the latest Global Hepatitis Report (WHO), in 2015 325 million people worldwide got infected with viral hepatitis, in the same year the disease caused 1,34 million deaths – a number comparable to deaths by tuberculosis and higher than those caused by HIV. 

World Hepatitis Day on the 28th of July gives all countries, international organizations and civil society yet another opportunity to once again inform the population about the things everyone needs to know about the disease, when and how one can get tested, vaccinated against and treated for hepatitis.  

At present an estimated 257 million people globally are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, and 71 million people with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection  - the two main „killers“ from the existing five virus types.  The epidemic caused by HCV affects mostly the African regions as well as the regions of Central and Eastern Asia. The disease caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV) is fully curable by direct-acting antiviral agents (DAAs) administered for 3 months. However, only 7 % of all those 71 million people have access to treatment…. 

WHO, other international agencies and community activists have been fighting to ensure access to DAAs for those in dire need. This can be done by lowering medication prices, extending their range, improving safety of injections and enforcing strict decontamination procedures for injection equipment in health care facilities. So, an average cost of a three month treatment course now lies between 260 and 280 US dollars, which is much less than the initial cost of the drugs when they first appeared on the market in 2013. However, to eliminate hepatitis the countries must accelerate their efforts and boost investment into wiping out this “silent killer” completely. 

On July 5, the European Parliament adopted a key resolution on the EU´s reponse to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis, which expressed a higher than ever concern about a rise in the spread of these diseases and called for urgent action in response to this threat.  The members of the European Parliament have used the Resolution to appeal to the European Commission and EU member states with a strong call to take more action to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis, provide better access to innovative diagnostics and treatment and increase investments into research.

“World Hepatitis Day in 2017 is celebrated as a call to action "Eliminate Hepatitis“ aimed to mobilize communities and accelerate towards achieving the goals set before. We see that the national response in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia has been gaining momentum; however, the awareness levels and the quality of the services leave much to be desired. Hepatitis treatment is complex and expensive at best of times, for people who use drugs (the most vulnerable population group, in some countries of our region up to 70% PUD are infected with hepatitis) it is often associated with additional hardship. It is not just lack of funds to buy the necessary medicines; it is the rigid rules inside the health care systems that deny access to treatment for people actively using drugs, such as stigmatization by doctors resulting in their refusal to give medicines to such a patient. Therefore we, harm reduction activists, see it as our duty to use World Hepatitis Day to remind about the special needs of people who use drugs, which should to be met by hepatitis prevention and treatment programs”, says Anna Dovbach, Executive Director of EHRN. 

Apart from advocating for lowering prices and prioritizing hepatitis treatment for people who use drugs at the regional level, we, in our role of harm reduction advocates and EHRN members, should be pushing for state funding of HCV treatment for PUD at national levels. Such examples as the program of hepatitis elimination in Georgia show us that this is possible. It is in our hands to save ourselves!