hepinion: global funders must join the fight for hepatitis elimination

16 Oct 2019 Lucy Ferrier

by Dr Philip Bruggman

Earlier this month, the Global Fund met for its sixth replenishment meeting in Lyon, France, where it achieved its ambitious fundraising target of US$14 billion to fight AIDs, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria. The replenishment meeting saw record pledges from countries, and huge contributions from private foundations. It is heartening to see the level of dedication countries and private sector donors have to fighting disease epidemics – after all the Global Fund aims to save 16 million lives with the money raised in Lyon. However it is frustrating to see viral hepatitis repeatedly excluded from funding opportunities, despite claiming more lives each year than HIV or malaria, and a number comparable to TB.

When a disease kills 4,000 people a day – 1.4 million a year –, I find it incomprehensible that there is not greater commitment from funders and development partners to tackle it, especially when there is such will to fight other major infectious diseases.

Due to this lack of funding we are asking low- and middle- income countries without the resources needed to eliminate hepatitis to tackle one of the largest health crises in history alone.

To combat this, just ahead of the replenishment meeting, I and almost 1,000 others joined the NOhep movement’s call for the Global Fund to proactively support the integration of viral hepatitis within its existing programmes.

When a disease kills 4,000 people a day – 1.4 million a year –, I find it incomprehensible that there is not greater commitment from funders and development partners to tackle it, especially when there is such will to fight other major infectious diseases.

Viral hepatitis can be effectively integrated into many existing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria programmes. Viral hepatitis affects similar key populations, the molecular diagnostic systems used for TB and HIV can be used to detect viral hepatitis, and the same generic drug (Tenofovir) is used to treat HIV and hepatitis B. If the Global Fund supports our request we can help build a more efficient, sustainable, and impactful response to all four diseases. Most importantly this will benefit the patients who currently have to navigate the inequity in the health system.

If major global funders and development partners hear our call, join the fight for hepatitis elimination, and seize the opportunity to tackle these major health crises together, we will achieve hepatitis elimination and avert over 7 million deaths by 2030. But if nothing is done, by 2040 hepatitis will kill more people than HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined.

If this is allowed to happen, then international commitments to Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.3 will be completely undermined. Both the UN’s Political Declaration on UHC, which was signed just a few weeks ago at the UN High Level meeting on UHC, and goal 3.3 of the SDGs include explicit commitments to hepatitis. While political will is of course to be welcomed, it means nothing if it is not backed up with the funding or strategies to turn will into reality.