World Hepatitis Day highlights the positive
The push to raise awareness of hepatitis globally has been boosted by recent debate around Gilead’s breakthrough hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, which can cure hard-to-treat patients but comes with a high price tag.
Today is the seventh World Hepatitis Day, with this year’s campaign, ‘Hepatitis: think again’, pointing out that the disease is remarkably neglected, despite being the world’s eighth biggest killer. Around 1.5 million people are killed annually, which is the same as the number who are killed by HIV/AIDS. Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. There are five different hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
As part of this year’s initiative, there is an interactive Tweet wall on a huge LED screen at the Commonwealth Games today. It comprises bricks showing negative aspects of viral hepatitis that people living with the disease face every day. Every time someone sends a tweet with the campaign hashtag #ThinkHepatitis, a brick turns around to reveal a positive truth, challenging people’s preconceptions. The event is being live-streamed on the World Hepatitis Day website, so people everywhere can get involved by tweeting or via text to 01287 244033.
Unlike other types of hepatitis, more than 80 per cent of hepatitis C infections become chronic and lead to liver disease. It is spread through blood-to-blood contact. Treatment for chronic hepatitis often involves a combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin. However, people with different genotypes respond differently to treatment, some better than others.
Kantar Health’s recent National Health and Wellness Survey (see infographic) found that treatment of hepatitis C is relatively low. Less than one-third of diagnosed patients are currently being treated in all geographies except China, where 58 per cent are treating their condition. Treatment is lowest in Brazil (11 per cent of diagnosed patients), the US (12 per cent) and big five EU (17 per cent).
And although a patient’s genotype can affect how well they respond to treatment, awareness of genotype and viral load is low. Awareness is lowest is Brazil, where 84 per cent of patients with hepatitis C say they don’t know their genotype and 83 per cent say they don’t know their viral load. Like treatment rates, awareness is highest in China, where 63 per cent of patients with diagnosed hepatitis C know their genotype and 72 per cent know their viral load.
The treatments for hepatitis C can have significant side effects, which can be a barrier to use. More than one-third of patients diagnosed with hepatitis C say they are not willing to tolerate side effects from their prescription medications.
Clearly, there is a long way to go to raise awareness and increase adherence to treatments, but the publicity – good and bad – generated around the development of new drugs in this field can only add momentum to the cause.
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