Research Revealed on World Hepatitis Day shows Countries Ill-equipped to Cope with Silent Epidemic

by hilary campbell

World Hepatitis Alliance calls for urgent action to address disease killing as many as HIV/AIDS

On World Hepatitis Day, the World Hepatitis Alliance has called for urgent attention to be given to recent figures showing that although viral hepatitis kills as many as HIV/AIDS, the great majority of countries have no programmes in place to tackle it. 

The Global Burden of Disease study released last year in the Lancet shows that viral hepatitis was responsible for almost 1.45 million deaths in 2010, the same as HIV/AIDS and significantly more than TB or Malaria. Despite this enormous annual death toll, leaders in global health consistently leave it off their agendas.

‘Viral hepatitis is the 8th leading cause of death worldwide, killing as many people as HIV/AIDS every single year’ says Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance. ‘500 million people worldwide are chronically infected. In the face of these numbers how is it possible that viral hepatitis receives so little priority across the world?’

Currently, diseases receive attention and funding depending on their global priority. However the global priority list does not necessarily reflect the real burden of disease. This has led to responses that are disproportionate to disease impact, and has left some diseases tragically under-resourced. Viral hepatitis is a clear example; despite its huge burden there is little global pressure to address it. Consequently, the majority of governments have failed to dedicate resources to viral hepatitis, even in countries where prevalence is up to 20%.

The global report released by the World Health Organization last week showed the extent to which viral hepatitis is ignored. Only 37% of countries have a national strategy or plan for viral hepatitis, and less than 30% reported having a department responsible solely for viral hepatitis related activities. The lack of response to the world’s 8th biggest killer is truly baffling. Not only does it put millions of lives at risk by allowing this silent epidemic to grow, it leaves the 500 million people who are chronically infected wholly abandoned without support or recognition.

In 2010 the World Health Organisation openly recognised that viral hepatitis is a major cause for concern by making World Hepatitis Day one of only 7 world health days officially recognised by WHO and all Member States. However, major changes to the global health landscape are yet to be seen. This World Hepatitis Day, the World Hepatitis Alliance has therefore launched a mass awareness campaign under the theme ‘This is hepatitis. Know it. Confront it.’ to encourage people to find out more and to confront the silence around the disease.

The Alliance is also co-ordinating a global Guinness World Record attempt for the number of people performing the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ actions at the same time, actions chosen because in the same way the Three Wise Monkeys ignore the world around them, so the world has been ignoring viral hepatitis. With 58 teams from 25 countries around the world taking part, this is a considerable challenge but with a clear message: viral hepatitis is a silent epidemic. Know it. Confront it.

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