HIV coinfection more than triples the risk of liver disease, liver failure and liver-related death from viral hepatitis

1 Dec 2016 Bridie Taylor

On World AIDS Day, the World Hepatitis Alliance calls for increased recognition of viral hepatitis and HIV coinfections

London, 1 December 2016 – People living with HIV and hepatitis B and C coinfections are at greater risk of liver disease, liver failure and liver-related death[i], yet the issue remains largely unrecognised. Similar to HIV, the hepatitis B and C viruses are blood-borne with similar transmission routes including sexual contact for hepatitis B and injection drug use for hepatitis B and C. However, with hepatitis B and C often presenting little to no symptoms, many people are unaware that they are suffering from the deadly effects of the viruses.

Viral hepatitis poses a serious and underreported health threat to people living with HIV. The disease progresses faster in HIV patients, increasing the prevalence of liver disease among those with HIV/AIDS. Yet due to low levels of public awareness and a lack of testing, people are not receiving appropriate treatment and care.

Despite AIDS deaths decreasing, the increasing burden of coinfection is presenting new challenges for the global HIV response.[ii] Today it is estimated that approximately 15% of people living with HIV are affected by hepatitis B or hepatitis C, resulting in a global burden of over 5 million.[iii] With a large percentage of people living with HIV and viral hepatitis still often undiagnosed, it will be impossible to reach the targets set out in the WHO’s Global Health Sector Strategy on HIV 2016–2021, without a huge scale-up in testing and treatment of both HIV and viral hepatitis.

Key measures need to be put in place by governments, healthcare professionals and civil society groups.

  • All persons living with HIV should be tested for hepatitis B and hepatitis C by their doctors
  • Treatment needs to be expanded broadly to include hard-to-reach and often-stigmatised populations such as people who inject drugs
  • Stigma needs to be removed which prevents people coming forward for testing
  • Infrastructure needs to be put into place and the price of diagnostics reduced to screen at-risk populations

 “On World AIDS Day we are highlighting the urgent need for governments, healthcare professionals and civil society to recognise the impact and global burden of coinfection between viral hepatitis and HIV, and to ensure adequate screening and treatment is available globally”, said Raquel Peck, CEO of the World Hepatitis Alliance.

[i] Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV and Viral Hepatitis, 2014, Available at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library_factsheets_HIV_and_viral_Hepatitis.pdf accessed November 2016

[ii] World Health Organization, Global Health Sector Straregy on HIV 2016 – 2021, Available at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/246178/1/WHO-HIV-2016.05-eng.pdf accessed November 2016

[iii] World Health Organization, HIV and hepatitis coinfections, Available at: http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/hepatitis/hepatitisinfo/en/ accessed November 2016