Meet WHA's new president

Rachel Halford, CEO, Hepatitis C Trust has been elected as the new president of the World Hepatitis Alliance. We speak to Rachel to hear her reaction to her appointment, and to discuss her thoughts on achieving hepatitis elimination by 2030. 

 What first motivated you to become a hepatitis advocate?   

Throughout my life, I have been an advocate for justice and those underserved by health and social systems. But it was not until I started working for the Hepatitis C Trust in 2015 that I was motivated to become an advocate for hepatitis, even though I was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1998.  

 My diagnosis was a consequence of a lifestyle I had been living, so there was stigma attached not only to my hepatitis C, but to the transmission route, too. At first, rather than shout and advocate for change about hepatitis C, I focused my attention on people affected by homelessness and women affected by the criminal justice system. I hid my diagnosis – something I think is common for many people affected by viral hepatitis. 

 My motivation today comes from the journey I have been on since then, and what I see and hear from around the world: the stigma, which due to lack of education and understanding is still so widely spread, and the global inequities of access to healthcare, including diagnostics and viral hepatitis treatment. 

 Like many people, I have lost loved ones to hepatitis. What drives my motivation most is that we have a cure for hepatitis C and a vaccine for hepatitis B. No one, wherever they are in the world, needs to die. 

 How important is it for people living with hepatitis to speak out?  

Before I joined the Hepatitis C Trust, I had not spoken out about my hepatitis C, but I learnt very quickly that there is immense power in speaking out, particularly when we use our voices together. 

 We know that the only people who can truly say how living with, or having had hepatitis affects them is the person affected; we are the experts through our experiences. There is a great power in the lived experience we all bring.  

 Speaking out creates change not only for the individual, but for all those affected. We saw this in the collaboration between patients and the World Health Organization in developing and implementing the global goal to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. 

 With only six years left, people living with hepatitis need to speak out. We need our voices to be loud and clear to ensure we not only reach that global goal, but that no one is left behind either. 

 What motivated you to apply to become president? 

When I joined the Hepatitis C Trust, I attended the first World Hepatitis Summit in Glasgow in 2015. It was an incredible event. The patient’s voice was loud and clear in what was discussed, and there was such a great atmosphere of hope and excitement, as the World Health Assembly had unanimously adopted the resolution that viral hepatitis should be eliminated by 2030. I was inspired by the World Hepatitis Alliance bringing together so many patient organisations, professionals and health ministers from across the world for it. 

 In 2018, I became the European Regional Board member for the World Hepatitis Alliance, and began to truly understand the impact of viral hepatitis on a global level. Despite the global goal’s institution in 2016, the inequitable reality of hepatitis healthcare around the world was, and remains stark. I believe the Alliance plays a central role in keeping the patient voice at the centre of all decision-making, but it is not easy and there is still much to do.  

 My motivation to apply to become president was that no one needs to die from viral hepatitis. I wanted to keep the patient voice central, be a part of the fight for equal access to viral hepatitis healthcare across the world, and remind people about the hope we had and the commitments made by our governments in 2016. 

 What do you hope to achieve as president?  

Globally, we tend to work within our own country contexts, which are already determined by so many factors, particularly economic. While platforms like social media gives us a glimpse of what others are doing, we rarely get an opportunity to share and help. 

 I want to increase the volume of our collective voices to bring about change, including reducing stigma. I hope to encourage and support patients to reach out to their governments and lobby for renewed commitment and investment to eliminate viral hepatitis. I would love them to share what they are doing, and join World Hepatitis Alliance campaigns like the amazing World Hepatitis Day Relay. 

 It is a privilege to be president, to represent patient voices and ensure they are heard. I take lessons from the remarkable presidents that have come before me, and hope that I can represent and bring as much as they have. 

 How do you believe we can eliminate hepatitis by 2030?  

I believe we have to work together as a global community to achieve elimination, with the patient at the centre. Patients have a vital role to play in elimination through their collective voices when lobbying for access to funding, diagnostics and treatment. 

 During the COVID-19 pandemic, people of the world supported each other globally, learning how to do so along the way. By reaching across the boundaries of income and partnering with other countries, we can do this again and achieve the elimination of viral hepatitis.