290 million worldwide unaware they are living with deadly virus

28 Jul 2018 Bridie Taylor

New data released on World Hepatitis Day reveals barriers that leave 9 in 10 people living with viral hepatitis undiagnosed and untreated

World Hepatitis Alliance, London, 28 July 2018. A global consultation commissioned by the World Hepatitis Alliance and released today, World Hepatitis Day 2018, has revealed the reasons why millions of people are unaware they are living with viral hepatitis, a serious infectious disease of the liver which can lead to cancer or fatal liver complications.

Viral hepatitis is one of the world’s leading causes of death, killing over one million people each year. Despite the availability of effective treatment and vaccines for hepatitis B and a cure for hepatitis C, viral hepatitis kills more people annually than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and mortality is on the rise.

One of the most significant reasons for this increasing death toll is the fact that diagnosis rates are so low. Out of the 325 million people living with viral hepatitis globally, 290 million are living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C unaware. Diagnosis rates vary greatly across regions and countries but according to data provided by the CDA Foundation, very few are on track to meet the World Health Organization’s target of a 30% diagnosis rate by 2020.

While the European, American and Western Pacific regions are leading diagnosis efforts, countries in the global south are being left behind: diagnosis rates are significantly lower in many low- and middle-income countries, particularly across Africa and South-East Asia.

Example of disparity in diagnosis statistics

WHO Region                     % of people living with hepatitis B diagnosed          % of people living with hepatitis C diagnosed

Africa                                2%                                                                       7%

Americas                          21%                                                                    36%

Eastern Mediterranean        6%                                                                     17%

Europe                             10%                                                                     32%

South-East Asia                  1.5%                                                                    9%

Western Pacific                 16%                                                                      21%

In an effort to increase diagnosis rates across the globe, the World Hepatitis Alliance commissioned a multi-country survey to identify the key barriers to the diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis. The five areas highlighted by its findings were:

  1. Lack of public knowledge of the disease
  2. Lack of knowledge of viral hepatitis among healthcare professionals
  3. Lack of easily accessible testing
  4. Stigma and discrimination
  5. Out of pocket costs for the population

“It’s shocking that so many people are going on about their lives, unaware they are living with a potentially life-threatening condition. The diagnosis issue requires an urgent response. Viral hepatitis doesn’t have to be a death sentence but it’s essential that people get tested and are linked to treatment and care. ” Michael Ninburg, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance.

This new research is supported by the launch of a global awareness-raising and advocacy campaign, Find the Missing Millions, which aims to increase diagnosis rates amongst the ‘missing’ 9 in 10 people living with viral hepatitis who remain undiagnosed and untreated. Today, the World Hepatitis Alliance has published a white paper which sets out a series of recommendations on how to overcome the barriers to hepatitis B and C diagnoses, and calls on governments to include civil society and the affected community in the response.

“Everyone has a part to play in finding the millions of people who are currently unaware that they live with viral hepatitis. From individuals demanding to be tested to medical professionals increasing their knowledge of the issue, a multi-stakeholder approach will be essential to scaling up diagnosis rates. Crucially, policymakers must help raise awareness and provide increased support for people living with the disease. Only then will we effectively start moving the needle to reach elimination of these diseases. ” Added Raquel Peck, CEO of the World Hepatitis Alliance.

To download a copy of the white paper and find out about the Find the Missing Millions campaign, go to http://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/missing-millions/

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Notes to Editors

About the World Hepatitis Alliance

The World Hepatitis Alliance is a patient-led and patient-driven global organisation representing the 325 million people living with viral hepatitis. In partnership with its 258 members across 86 countries, the World Hepatitis Alliance works to harness the power of people living with viral hepatitis to achieve its elimination. In doing so, we work with governments, national members and other key partners to raise awareness, influence policy change and drive action to find the millions of people unaware of their condition. For more information, visit www.worldhepatitisalliance.org

About “Finding the Missing Millions”

325 million people throughout the world are living with viral hepatitis, yet close to 290 million of those are unaware and undiagnosed. Viral hepatitis is a serious life-threatening infectious disease and is one of the world’s leading causes of death. Unless we find the “missing millions” that are yet to be diagnosed and link them to care, all other efforts to eliminate the disease will only have marginal success.

The World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) is working with experts and key partners across the globe to highlight the challenges to diagnosis, the context in which they are experienced and the role people living with viral hepatitis can have in overcoming the barriers.

In keeping with the mission of the WHA to ‘harness the power of people living with viral hepatitis’ the Find the Missing Millions programme will put people affected by viral hepatitis at the heart of the solution. Furthermore, once the “missing millions” are aware of their diagnosis, they can be part of the drive to prevent the disease through demanding access to treatment and encouraging innovation. The “Find the Missing Millions” campaign will be launched today on World Hepatitis Day marking the beginning of a wider three-year awareness-raising and advocacy campaign.

For more information, visit WHA’s “Find the Missing Millions” programme http://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/missing-millions/   

Access the white paper and survey report here