Civil Society report on the prevention and control of viral hepatitis

Charles Gore

In her foreword to the 2013 Global Policy Report on the Prevention and Control of Viral Hepatitis in WHO Member States, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan wrote that viral hepatitis is “responsible for a widely prevalent and growing disease burden”, adding that “no country, rich or poor, is spared.” In human terms, that translates to 1.5 million people dying every year, the same as from AIDS and significantly more than from tuberculosis or malaria. Yet for many years, with the exception of scaling up hepatitis B vaccination almost nothing was done at a global level. So much death and misery. So little action. Inexplicable.

So it was patient groups that stepped into this vacuum. We established World Hepatitis Day in 2008. We galvanised governments to adopt the first ever World Health Assembly resolution on viral hepatitis in 2010 and then another, stronger resolution this year. We persuaded WHO to undertake the Global Policy Report and provided financing for it. That report, however, gave only the government view on policy in each country so we wanted also to solicit the views of civil society to give a fuller, more rounded picture of what is happening across the world to prevent new infections and help the 400 million of us living with chronic viral hepatitis. The result is this report.

What is clear is that not enough is happening. Very few countries have comprehensive national hepatitis strategies and there is a scarcity of global resources. In such an environment we are going to have to be smart. We need to emphasise how much of hepatitis prevention – safe blood, safe injections, safe water, safe food, harm reduction, universal childhood vaccination – should be happening anyway because it is part of a well-functioning health system. We need also to develop innovative funding mechanisms and to use existing resources, programmes and infrastructure cleverly.

Most important of all, when we are short of both human and financial resources, we need to work together. The new hepatitis resolution specifically calls on governments to work with civil society and this report shows how infrequently that happens. This is not simply about governments failing to engage. The different elements of civil society, and patient groups in particular, are not nearly numerous or strong enough. This has to change and the World Hepatitis Alliance is committed to strengthening civil society but we need the support and encouragement of governments in doing this. If as a world we need to be smart to tackle viral hepatitis effectively, it is imperative that civil society is fully involved but also has the capacity to be fully involved. That is the key message of this ground-breaking report.

Charles Gore

President, World Hepatitis Alliance