World Hepatitis Day 2020

On 28 July, the global health community commemorates World Hepatitis Day – an important opportunity to highlight and accelerate efforts to find the 290 million people who are unaware they are living with viral hepatitis.

Each year, 1.3 million lives are lost to hepatitis B and C. But this year, COVID-19 is making the disease even deadlier: emerging evidence suggests that those with liver disease have a higher risk of mortality from COVID-19, and is just one more reason why we cannot afford to neglect other major infectious disease killers as the world focusses on the pandemic.

We have led the Hepatitis C Elimination through Access to Diagnostics (HEAD-Start) project, supported by Unitaid, for the last 3 years. HEAD-Start is designed to improve diagnosis of hepatitis C virus (HCV) by making testing more affordable and widely available to those in need, with a focus on serving people co-infected with HIV. WHO highlights low test coverage as one of the most important gaps to be addressed in order to achieve the global elimination goals by 2030.

And we have made progress. It is encouraging to see the team’s hard work translate into the uptake and implementation of national policies to scale up HCV management in project countries. Across Georgia, Malaysia, Myanmar and India, HEAD-Start has demonstrated the impact that more accessible diagnosis and screening can have, with decentralized services reaching vulnerable populations including those who inject drugs and people living with HIV. Working closely with Ministries of Health, national testing algorithms have been updated, ensuring that the impact of this work will continue beyond completion of the project itself.

For World Hepatitis Day, we have released a video highlighting the successful “Delhi Model” of care – to take you on a journey from testing to treatment for hepatitis C in Delhi. Our work in Punjab has also been featured by the International AIDS Society, highlighting how integrating HIV and HCV testing services can save thousands of lives.

As a part of HEAD-Start, we are also working to bring more HCV point-of-care tests to market to facilitate and enable decentralization efforts, and to explore self-testing – an area of emerging interest in public health as it could also have a critical role in increasing access to screening and limiting exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19.

As the HEAD-Start project draws to a close this year, I invite you all to join us for a special World Hepatitis Day 2020 webinar on 30 July that we are organizing along with the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), where you’ll have a chance to hear directly from key stakeholders, policymakers and community members involved in all aspects of the project.

We join WHO in showing our support for a hepatitis-free future.