Geneva – Every year, more than one million people die from hepatitis, a disease that often goes undetected until it is too late. Hepatitis C alone affects an estimated 58 million people worldwide, yet only one in five gets diagnosed and far fewer receive treatment.
This World Hepatitis Day, 28 July, global health agency Unitaid joins the global community’s call to not wait for change.
Breakthroughs in treatment have transformed hepatitis C from a virtually incurable disease to an infection that can be cleared with highly effective new medicines in a matter of weeks. But a lack of awareness about risk factors and the need to be screened for infection, coupled with insufficient availability and testing processes that remain too complex, severely hinder the reach of new drugs.
Add to that the fact that populations with the highest rates of hepatitis C – people who inject drugs or those who are incarcerated – also tend to have the poorest access to health services. Low- and middle-income countries, which already struggle to stretch limited budgets to cover health needs, shoulder 80% of the hepatitis C burden.
But hepatitis C is a global health problem that we can solve – today. The tests and treatments available are already capable of addressing the challenges – provided they can reach the people and communities who need them the most.
Unitaid is not waiting to ensure life-saving products reach communities where rates of hepatitis C transmission are highest. We are invested in integrating treatment delivery systems in vital services to bring information and care closer to populations at risk.
And we’re committed to improving diagnostic pathways so a patient can get tested, diagnosed, and start treatment in a single medical visit. Unitaid is expanding the lessons learned through HIV self-testing to inform self-testing strategies for hepatitis C to allow patients more autonomy and control over their health while reducing testing time and increasing treatment rates.
Going one step further, Unitaid is forging ahead with long-acting technologies with the aim to develop an even simpler treatment that could cure hepatitis C with a single injection.
Though the injectable hepatitis C treatment remains in early-stage development, if successful, it would represent a major advance and make treatment completion even easier for people who struggle with the twelve-week drug regimen.
Working in parallel, Unitaid is tackling transmission within communities of people who inject drugs. Though this group represents just 10% of all people infected with hepatitis C worldwide, injection drug use contributes to 43% of all new infections.
Guided by the voices and needs of community partners, our work is trialing the use of novel or underused products aimed at reducing the risk of blood-borne disease transmission that are associated with injection drug use.
With 1.5 million new hepatitis C infections every year, we cannot afford to wait. This World Hepatitis Day, Unitaid remains committed to fast-tracking the best solutions, eliminating barriers, and facilitating scale up of critical interventions to help achieve the global goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.
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