World health leaders are turning their attention to hepatitis after New Zealand and 193 countries agreed to proactively address viral hepatitis.
The hepatitis resolution, which was unanimously approved at the 2014 World Health Assembly, calls for every country to adopt a national strategy to address viral hepatitis.
“We’re delighted the New Zealand government is committing themselves to nationally address viral hepatitis,” said John Hornell, CEO of The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand. “We’ve worked in partnership with successive governments for 30 years to address hepatitis B and we hope the next step will be a national approach to hepatitis C. New Zealand now has an opportunity to eradicate hepatitis C in our lifetime.”
The hepatitis resolution is timely. On Tuesday 22 July, The Lancet published the findings of the Global Burden of Disease Study, highlighting the positive impact of co-ordinated national approaches. The study found there was a vast improvement against the global burden of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) when governments worldwide adopted the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6. As a result, the number of deaths from HIV reduced from 1.7 million in 2005 to around 1.3 million in 2013. Viral hepatitis was not included in the MDG 6 and consequently the deaths from viral hepatitis increased by 50 per cent to 1.5 million people every year.
“The global community has worked extremely hard to tackle HIV/AIDS. The result is a plummeting death toll. Viral hepatitis in contrast has spiralled into a global epidemic,” said Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA), in a WHA statement.
“As I’ve said before, too many lives are lost prematurely to this manageable chronic disease. If people are diagnosed early, regularly monitored, and provided appropriate education and in some cases treatment, outcomes would be different,” said Mr Hornell. “A key step to addressing viral hepatitis is through testing and early diagnosis. This was recognised at the World Health Assembly, and this is our focus for our World Hepatitis Day campaign.”
At the start of the month, The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand launched its ‘Can you say yes’ campaign, as part of a build-up to World Hepatitis Day on 28 July. Following on from its success in 2013, risk factors of hepatitis B and C have been promoted across the North Island and those at risk are encouraged to speak to their doctor or contact The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand for a free test. Promotion of World Hepatitis Day in the South Island is covered by another organisation.
Approximately 150,000 New Zealanders live with chronic hepatitis B or C, and most are unaware they have it. Viral hepatitis is the main cause of liver cancer and liver transplantation in New Zealand, however, in most cases, liver cancer is preventable if detected early.
People at risk of hepatitis B are those who are over 25 and of Māori, Pacific Island, or Asian ethnicity. Also at risk are people whose mother or close family has hepatitis B, or if they live with someone who has hepatitis B.
For hepatitis C, those at risk are people who have ever injected drugs, ever received a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment, had medical attention overseas or immigrated from a high risk country, had a blood transfusion prior to 1992, have ever been in prison, or were born to a mother with hepatitis C.
The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to improve health outcomes for people living with chronic hepatitis B or C in New Zealand. They encourage anyone living with chronic hepatitis B or C to enrol with the Foundation for education, support and routine testing. Over 17,500 New Zealanders with chronic hepatitis B or C are enrolled in the programme, with an aim to increase to 35,000 in the next five years.
On Monday 28 July, people from all over the globe will come together to celebrate and embrace World Hepatitis Day. This day is an opportunity for all New Zealanders to learn about hepatitis and an opportunity for people to get tested if they are, or have been, at risk.
For more information, call 0800 33 20 10 or visit www.hepatitisfoundation.org.nz