28th July 2020

With COVID-19 still dominating the news and remaining a central part of everyday life, it is easy to forget that other serious viral diseases still exist. One example is hepatitis: the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that around 325 million people worldwide are living with hepatitis,1 which is almost the same size as the population of the USA.2 However, 9 out of 10 people will be unaware that they have the disease, as there are often no noticeable symptoms.3

There are five main viral strains of hepatitis (A-E); types B and C together are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and deaths related to viral hepatitis. In the UK, hepatitis C is the most prevalent form and is typically spread through sharing needles.4

Effective drug treatment and vaccination are available for hepatitis, and the WHO announced a global strategy in 2016 to reduce new hepatitis infections by 90% and deaths by 60% by 2030, which was endorsed by all WHO member states.1 However, with less than 10 years to go progress has stalled, with very few countries on track to fulfil the WHO pledge.

World Hepatitis Day takes place on 28th July, a date that was chosen to honour the birthday of the Nobel-winning scientist Baruch Blumberg, who discovered the hepatitis B virus and developed both a diagnostic test and a vaccine.5 This day offers an opportunity to raise awareness of the burden of hepatitis and highlight the need for improved access to diagnosis and management strategies.

NOhep is a global organisation dedicated to the elimination of viral hepatitis. We can help by signing their open letter urging governments to make the elimination of hepatitis a priority (https://www.nohep.org/2020whdletter/). NOhep is also a good source of information about hepatitis and has other ways to join their campaign and help find the missing millions with hepatitis (https://www.nohep.org/).

References

1.     World Health Organization. Health topics: hepatitis. https://www.who.int/health-topics/hepatitis#tab=tab_1 (accessed July 2020).

2.     Worldometer. United States population (live). https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/ (accessed July 2020).

3.     NOhep. https://www.nohep.org/ (accessed July 2020).

4.     NHS health A-Z. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis/ (accessed July 2020).

5.     World Health Organization. WHO campaigns: World Hepatitis Day.  https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-hepatitis-day (accessed July 2020).