July 28th marks World Hepatitis Day to enhance awareness of viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes a range of health problems, including liver cancer. Globally, 328 million people live with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV), killing 1.3 million people each year. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, hepatitis continues to claim thousands of lives daily, on average, due to lockdowns and interruptions in hepatitis interventions and disease management services.
Since its launch two years ago on World Hepatitis Day, The Task Force’s Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination (CGHE) has been committed to supporting hepatitis programs, starting with just 40 program members and reaching more than 120 to date. Through CGHE’s projects such as their data dashboards on all 195 countries, operational research projects, webinars, and hepatitis Help Desk, national hepatitis programs are better able to serve people affected and prevent the progression of hepatitis for those affected with the goal of completely eliminating the disease by 2030.
To highlight the global hepatitis elimination progress made thus far, CGHE is honoring six 2021 Elimination Champions from visionary clinicians, inspiring persons living with hepatitis, and dedicated public servants who are leaders in their communities and countries that go above and beyond to ensure that HBV and HCV elimination benefits all people.
“These Champions are committed to achieving health equity, the ultimate goal of hepatitis elimination, by fighting hepatitis-related stigma, advocating for government action and expanding access to hepatitis testing and treatment through capacity building and developing simplified models of care,” said Dr. John Ward, Director of the CGHE. “Because of their actions and the example they set for others, the world is that much closer to the goals for eliminating hepatitis. Congratulations and thank you.”
We spoke with some of these champions to hear how they do it.
How did you become committed to viral hepatitis care and prevention?
Mohammad Ali | Surgeon, Professor, and Hepatitis Advocate, Bangladesh: Dr. Ali founded the National Liver Foundation of Bangladesh, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, education and research on liver diseases in Bangladesh.
During the early years of my practice, one thing I had noticed was that 60% of liver problems were preventable. Before 1999, there was a lack of care, screening and prevention for hepatitis globally. I made it my specialty to study preventable liver diseases such as hepatitis and provided care for such diseases in Bangladesh. In 2007, I was invited to join the global alliance for viral hepatitis prevention and care because, as a liver specialist, I had been providing that rare service for so long already in Bangladesh. Now, I was part of a global network that moved to provide prevention, treatment and care all over the world.
Bwambale Arafat|Hepatitis Community Leader, Uganda: Mr. Bwambale is a co-founder of the Great Lakes Peace Center and a community leader in raising awareness on viral hepatitis.
In 2014, my uncle was diagnosed with liver cancer, and when we investigated further, we found that he also had HBV, and to me, it was a new thing that I did not know about. After two days, unfortunately, my uncle passed on. For lack of education about hepatitis, my uncle’s family blamed my auntie, believing she bewitched him. My auntie was removed from her house as a result, and since then I realized we need initiatives that will raise the profile of viral hepatitis within my community, so everyone has factual information.
Alethse de la Torre Rosas|Director of the National Council for AIDS Prevention and Control, Mexico: Dr. Alethse de la Torre Rosas led the development of a national HCV elimination program.
I fell in love with public health, and I passionately believe that all people should have access to equal quality health care. This led me to a position that focused on developing an action plan of care for people with viral hepatitis.
How have you continued to provide care during the COVID-19 pandemic?
John Dillon | Professor, University of Dundee, Scotland: Dr. Dillon successfully eliminated HCV in the Tayside Region of Scotland.
In Tayside, our work has continued to safeguard the population from blood borne virus infection, despite the pandemic. Although we eliminated HCV before COVID, we have redoubled efforts to maintain treatment of people who inject drugs with Opioid Substitution Therapy, maintained the community supply of injecting equipment and continued to offer testing and treatment of people for blood borne viruses
Can you give a quantifiable example of the results you’ve seen since you started your hepatitis program?
Rachel Gonzalez, MPH, and Angela Park, PharmD: Ms. Gonzalez and Dr. Park led the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) HCV Innovation Team (HIT) Collaborative, a national effort to expand HCV treatment access.
During five years of our work in hepatitis screening, treatment, and prevention, the screening rate in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs increased from approximately 65% to more than 85%, curing more than 100,000 Veterans with treatment.
Tell us about a campaign that was effective in increasing awareness of and care for hepatitis.
Gamal Shiha | Professor of Internal Medicine, and the Head of the Gastrointestinal & Liver Unit at Mansoura University, Egypt: Dr. Shiha established the Association for Liver Patients Care and the Egyptian Liver Hospital that provides free medical care for underserved liver patients.
In 2015, we developed a community-based outreach model (educate, test and treat) for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HCV and HBV infection across villages in rural Egypt. It was implemented in 100 villages across eight governorates in Egypt between June 2015 and April 2019. Over 250,000 villagers were screened for HCV and HBV. A total of 16,500 infected patients received free treatment. Through the program the patients received free and comprehensive testing and treatment with direct-acting antivirals, alongside health education to promote safe behaviors and practices in the community to reduce transmission and new infections.