New report calls on governments to play their part and improve surveillance, screening and diagnosis of hepatitis C worldwide
BEERSE, BELGIUM, 24 June 2014/PRNewswire/- ‘Tackling hepatitis C: Moving towards an integrated policy approach’,
a report published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) today
reveals that many countries around the world have been slow to respond
with national policies on hepatitis C despite recent government pledges
to fight the disease. The hepatitis C virus remains the leading cause of
liver cancer, liver disease and liver transplantation placing a huge
burden on patients’ lives and healthcare systems.
Even though incremental progress has been made the report states
that, ‘concrete initiatives remain thin on the ground’ because of
limited resources, data and information about the impact of hepatitis C.
The report finds that despite growing awareness of the disease,
epidemiological data remain scarce. This improved awareness underscores
the need for a co-ordinated response. However, global variations in
prevalence of and approaches to addressing hepatitis C still persist.
Non-government organisations (NGOs) and patient groups are leading
the way in raising awareness of hepatitis C and calling for rapid
responses from governments.
“People have got to stop asking, ‘should we have a hepatitis
programme?’ and start saying ‘when are we going to have one?,’” said
Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance, who, in the
report, makes a case for integrating hepatitis initiatives into already
existing programmes such as HIV and cancer. “The 194 countries of the
World Health Organisation have provided tangible direction through the
recent Resolution on Viral Hepatitis. Now it’s up to national agencies
and programmes to work together to develop and implement their own
strategies tackling viral hepatitis.”
Viral hepatitis can lead to years of chronic liver infection and
kills 1.4 million people annually, a far higher number than previously
thought.1 With a peak in hepatitis C-related complications
expected in 2020 – 2025, it is imperative to take action now in order to
prevent a steep increase in the rate of liver cancer and mortalities
associated with the disease. A number of conclusions can be drawn from
the report to help achieve this:
- Surveillance of hepatitis C needs to improve and be integrated into local strategies.
- Screening and diagnosis must reach vulnerable populations to allow effective prevention and care.
- Outreach is key to improve awareness of hepatitis C, mobilise stakeholders and ensure coordinated initiatives.
“Countries need to invest in data. They need to be able to identify
the problem to be able to tackle it effectively,” said Jack Wallace,
Executive Member of the Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asia
Pacific. “Governments can then develop co-ordinated responses so that
everyone is clear about what they need to do, who is responsible and
what outcomes they need to measure.”
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus which affects as many as 170 million people, or 2.4% of the world’s population.2,3
Despite this, less than half of all countries monitor the chronic form
of the disease which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer and accounts
for 1% of deaths worldwide.1,4
“Whilst it is a positive step forward that hepatitis C is being
recognised at a governmental level, the report shows that there is still
much to be done to help countries address the disease nationally,” said
Gaston Picchio, Global Hepatitis Disease Area Leader, Janssen. “By
working with the local hepatitis C communities, Janssen aims to elevate
the disease as a serious public health issue and is seeking commitment
from everyone involved in the care of these patients to improve
healthcare infrastructure and overall outcomes for all those affected.”
Different regions face specific challenges in addressing hepatitis C.
For example, Italy’s hepatitis C problem is worst among people over age
40. Whilst Australia has adopted a national hepatitis C strategy, its
experience shows that even the most comprehensive policies face
challenges in implementation. A lack of sufficient data is one of many
obstacles to understanding the true scale of infection in Southeast
Asia. And in Latin America, Brazil is leading the way in promoting
better access to data, diagnosis and treatment globally as it acts early
to establish guidelines and protocols to tackle hepatitis C.
A copy of the EIU report is available at the following link:
This report follows publication of ‘The silent pandemic: Tackling hepatitis C with policy innovation’ in
January 2013, which investigated how systemic innovation could minimise
the impact of hepatitis C. Both reports were made possible as a result
of financial support from Janssen Pharmaceutical NV (Janssen).