Community Engagement, Global Health Conferences, Healthcare Workforce, Infectious Diseases, Vaccination

World Hepatitis Day 2015 - Focusing on Prevention

~Written by Theresa Majesty (Contact: theresa.majeski@gmail.com; Twitter: @theresamajeski)

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that approximately 1.5 million people die each year from the various types of hepatitis caused by hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E. It is estimated that half a billion people worldwide are infected with hepatitis B or C virus, the strains responsible for the majority of cases of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

In order to bring attention to the large global burden of disease caused by viral hepatitis, 2015’s World Hepatitis Day is July 28th. This date was chosen to honor the birthday of Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch Samuel Blumberg who discovered the hepatitis B virus and developed the first hepatitis B vaccine. This year the emphasis is on prevention, with the slogan “Prevent hepatitis. Act now.”

We can prevent hepatitis by providing safe food and water (hepatitis A and E), vaccines (hepatitis A, B, and E), screening blood donations and providing proper equipment to maintain infection control (hepatitis B and C). While hepatitis B and C can be treated, many people in low- and middle- income countries lack access to treatment due to a lack of screening and the high cost of treatment. Until screening and treatment options become more accessible and affordable, prevention messages are incredibly important.

To help people learn how to prevent hepatitis, the WHO World Hepatitis Day 2015 campaign focuses on four key prevention messages:

  1. Prevent hepatitis - know the risks
  2. Prevent hepatitis – demand safe injections
  3. Prevent hepatitis – vaccinate children
  4. Prevent hepatitis – get tested, seek treatment

Figure 1: A poster from World Hepatitis Alliance. 

If you’d like to get involved in raising awareness about hepatitis, please visit worldhepatitisday.org. There you’ll find some ideas on how to get involved, information on what social media campaigns have been formed, and materials to share to help spread the word that hepatitis is preventable.

The future of the fight against hepatitis looks promising. WHO has been increasing its efforts to fight hepatitis by establishing the Global Hepatitis Programme in 2011, and in 2014 moved that program to the cluster of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and Neglected Tropical Diseases to help facilitate work between HIV/AIDS and hepatitis programs (due to the high number of people around the world living with both HIV and viral hepatitis). Furthermore, WHO, in conjunction with the Scottish Government and the World Hepatitis Alliance, is organizing the first ever World Hepatitis Summit in Glasgow, Scotland over 2-4 September 2015. This invite-only summit will bring together policy makers, patients, and other key stakeholders to determine how best to make lasting progress to reduce the global burden of hepatitis.

There is still progress to be made by the global community in order to win the fight against hepatitis. Key efforts, such as establishing events to publicize the global burden of viral hepatitis and holding summits to bring together the stakeholders that can make a difference, are contributing to saving lives in the fight against viral hepatitis.