Today, the 28th July, is World Hepatitis Day and the birthday of Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch (Barry) Blumberg, discoverer of the hepatitis B virus and developer of the first hepatitis B vaccine.
Viral hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver, caused a variety of viruses, named alphabetically from A to E. These are spread mostly through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. With hepatitis B, it can also be passed between mothers and children, sexual partners and between patients and health workers where unsafe medical practice occurs. The prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in injection drug users is also very high, while approximately 10% of the world’s population is currently infected or has been exposed. 400 million people live with chronic viral hepatitis worldwide despite a hepatitis B vaccine and despite treatments for hepatitis B and hepatitis C becoming steadily more effective.
4000 people die of viral hepatitis every day and this message is central to today’s campaign because, for the huge impact it presents, the disease is still little known. Therefore, there is an opportunity to take action to counter this.
The World Hepatitis Alliance and The World Health Organization (WHO) want to raise awareness of the extent and nature of viral hepatitis to encourage governments to prioritise and develop hepatitis treatment plans and challenge ignorances to dispel the stigma surrounding hepatitis victims.
There will be many worldwide events to recognise the day, including educational talks, social media campaigns and free hepatitis screening in some places. Information on how to support the day can be found on the World Hepatitis Day website.
This year’s focus is prevention: preventing death from viral hepatitis, which are all avoidable. The WHO and partners will be urging policy makers to act to prevent infection. Research is being undertaken in many places to improve the treatments and diagnoses of viral hepatitis. One such study is the Prevention of Liver Fibrosis and Cancer in Africa (PROLIFICA).
PROLIFICA is a European Commission led collaborative study based in Europe and Africa working to reduce the prevalence of liver cancer in Africa by suppressing the hepatitis B virus, which has been shown to be a major risk factor for liver cancer, through screening and treatment for hepatitis B. They also want to improve diagnosis of liver cancer in resource-poor settings, so that more people can detect the condition early and improve prognosis through treatment. It is hoped that this research will inform public health programs, provide a clinical protocol for HBV management in resource-poor settings and improve research capacity in West Africa for viral hepatitis and liver cancer.