The annual World Hepatitis Day campaign aims to raise awareness of the Hepatitis virus and the urgent need for testing so that people are able to access the correct treatment. This year, World Hepatitis Day is centred around the theme of the theme, ‘I Can’t Wait!’. It highlights how important testing and treatment is in the fight against hepatitis, and the need to put an end to stigma and discrimination against people with hepatitis.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 58 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection. In addition to this, it is estimated that 296 million people are living with the hepatitis B virus.
These numbers equate to a person dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis-related illness - but it doesn’t have to be this way.
What is hepatitis?
The first step to a Hep-free world is educating as many people as possible about the virus. Below is a description of hepatitis and a breakdown of its types, from the World Hepatitis Alliance:
‘Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These five types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread.
Chronic hepatitis B and C are life-threatening infectious diseases that cause serious liver damage, cancer, and premature death.’
Through raising awareness and educating the general public, we can encourage ‘high risk’ people to get tested and treat those carrying the blood-borne virus. More importantly, we can use campaign materials to put pressure on global decision-makers to prioritise eliminating hepatitis once and for all.
NHS APA's Hep C U Later programme is a bold and ambitious effort to eliminate Hepatitis C within its members' community services by 2023. This initiative was formulated with Gilead Sciences in response to NHS England’s innovative procurement of initiatives that aim to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2025.
This includes using streamlined routes into treatment alongside award-winning peer engagement projects such as the Wessex Clinical Van project. Recently, our NHS APA member, Inclusion, achieved micro-elimination of Hep C at their service in Thurrock, becoming the first NHS service to do so.
How is hepatitis contracted?
Knowing how these viruses are contracted gives people a better understanding of how to avoid them, and whether there is a chance they might already be infected. The different types are most commonly transmitted via these methods:
Consuming food and drink contaminated with faeces of an infected person. (Common in countries with poor sanitation).
From the blood of an infected person, commonly spread from infected pregnant women to their babies.
Unprotected sex and injecting drugs.
Through the sharing of needles.
Reuse or inadequate sterilization of medical equipment.
From a pregnant woman to her unborn child.
Sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood.
Hepatitis D (This can only be contracted by someone who has the Hepatitis B virus):
Through blood-blood contact or sexual contact.
The consumption of raw or undercooked meats and fish and unsanitized food and drink.
Is Hepatitis curable?
Despite the fact that all types of the virus are treatable, and Hepatitis A and C are 100% curable, hundreds of millions of infected people around the world continue to suffer, and in the worst cases, lose their lives.
Hep C is the most chronic form of the virus, and unfortunately, most of those who are infected do not present with symptoms for many years post contraction. Hence, the key to curing more cases of chronic Hepatitis infections is seeing as many high-risk individuals as possible getting tested.
That’s where crucial campaigns like this one come in.
We can use our voice to demand more action from global decision-makers and put a stop to the neglect of the worldwide hepatitis crisis.
I Can’t Wait!
The main messages of this year's awareness campaign are these:
People living with viral hepatitis unaware can’t wait for testing
People living with hepatitis can’t wait for life-saving treatments
Expectant mothers can’t wait for hepatitis screening and treatment
Newborn babies can’t wait for birth dose vaccination
People affected by hepatitis can’t wait to end stigma and discrimination
Community organisations can’t wait for greater investment
Decision-makers can’t wait and must act now to make hepatitis elimination a reality through political will and funding.
These messages speak loud about the urgency of the hepatitis epidemic, and especially of the chronic Hep C problem that continues to claim millions of lives each year, despite us having the tools to eradicate these viruses by 2030.
The ticking clock motif featured across the World Hepatitis Day campaign resources is intended to put pressure on global decision-makers. It suggests that time is running out for many vulnerable and ‘at-risk’ individuals, stressing the urgent need for further action.
What can I do to help?
Individually, we can all do our bit to spread awareness of hepatitis. But together, our collective voice can force the hand of those who have the power to make a difference and get more people tested and treated, saving as many lives as possible.
Here’s what you can do:
Step 1: Engage with the World Hepatitis Day campaign on social media, and share as many of their campaign resources as you can.
Step 2: Repeat step 1 for the NHS APA’s HepCULater campaign.
Step 3: Challenge your beliefs and behaviours around hepatitis, in order to challenge the stigma that sadly exists against people with hepatitis. Find out more about our #StigmaKills campaign.
Step 4: Educate the people around you about the hepatitis viruses, and encourage anyone you know who might be at risk to get tested.
Let’s step towards a hep-free world, together.