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 remains 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: http://www.janssen-emea.com/hpc/reports/hep-c-policy-approach
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).