Claiming over one million lives each year, viral hepatitis is a major public health challenge, but one which we can overcome. Indeed, two years ago 194 countries committed to eliminating hepatitis B and C by 2030 and stop liver cancer in its tracks. We have since seen some progress but we need to accelerate the response to this epidemic to achieve this goal.
"But why are so many people losing their lives to this illness if prevention and treatment options exist?"
Simply put, because no one knows about it! Right now, out of the 325 million people living with viral hepatitis, more than 290 million people are living with hepatitis B or C unaware. That’s 9 in 10 men, women and children who are going on about their lives not knowing they have a cancer-causing virus. In fact, low diagnosis is one of the greatest barriers to elimination and countries are falling seriously behind. When adopting the WHO’s elimination strategy, governments also committed to 2020 interim targets, including a target of 30% of people living with hepatitis B and C diagnosed. Less than 30 countries are on track to meet that. We risk more people becoming infected and more lives lost if there isn’t a massive scale-up in screening, diagnosis and linkage to care to find these missing millions. To do this, we need help – your help.
Each year on 28 July, the world comes together to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and to influence real change. World Hepatitis Day, one of just four disease-specific health days officially endorsed by the World Health Organisation, draws attention to our cause and provides a platform to start conversations and spur action. It’s one of our biggest opportunities to highlight the shocking statistics and to engage governments, civil society, medical professionals and the general public in tangible actions to increase diagnosis.
The Find the Missing Millions campaign is how we will do just that. Launching on World Hepatitis Day, Find the Missing Millions is a three-year global awareness-raising and advocacy campaign that aims to raise awareness of the importance of screening and diagnosis and encourage action by putting civil society organisations and the affected community at the heart of the solution.
Earlier this year, we carried out a global survey to understand the barriers to diagnosis, which then led to a stakeholder consultation meeting where 30 global experts discussed how to overcome the barriers. The resounding message was clear: we need a multi-stakeholder approach and civil society and the affected community in particular have a unique and important role to play.
Our new white paper, entitled ‘Overcoming the barriers to diagnosis of viral hepatitis: the role of civil society and the affected community in finding the missing millions’ stresses just that - governments who involve civil society and the affected community in their response will reap the benefits that we can offer. It’s crucial that governments recognise the voices of those affected by viral hepatitis as vital partners in the elimination effort.
You can play a part in making that happen. Make noise on social media on World Hepatitis Day, attend a local event to raise awareness among your community and advocate to your government to ensure we find the missing millions. Let’s seize the opportunity to eliminate this global killer and prevent needless cancer deaths!