Viral Hepatitis is the Seventh Leading Cause of Death Worldwide; U.S. Treatment Interventions Continue To Go Underfunded


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    Credit: O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law 

    Sonia Canzater, O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law 

The following opinion is written by Sonia Canzater, an Associate with the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

July 11, 2016 -- An article published on July 6, 2016 in The Lancet ranks viral hepatitis infections – specifically both Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV) – as the seventh leading cause of death worldwide in 2013, up from tenth in 1990. Where other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and diarrheal diseases saw sharp declines over this timespan, HBV and HCV saw a marked increase in mortality and morbidity. In the U.S., the majority of viral hepatitis deaths are attributed to HCV, due to successful HBV vaccination efforts.

I have belabored the point on this blog that Hepatitis C is a critical public health concern that, despite the consistent release of research stating its increasing adverse impact on public health, continues to see woeful underfunding for prevention and treatment initiatives to curtail its spread. Given that there are several drugs on the market that cure Hepatitis C infections, there is really no excuse for such significant increases in infection rates, especially in a resource-rich country like the U.S. The data is clear, and the urgency of the need to address the issue has reached a deafening pitch. However, resources and policy changes needed to reduce infections and improve health outcomes remain sluggish to meet the needs of this public health crisis.

The authors of The Lancet article note that sparse data availability on viral hepatitis infections posed a significant challenge to their study. Even after the painstaking efforts they took to calculate reliable estimates, the actual number of people living with the health consequences of viral hepatitis may be even higher than reported in this report. The dearth of comprehensive HCV data was the first barrier identified by the Institute’s Hepatitis C Policy Project to be remediated in order to improve HCV outcomes. The lack of reliable data severely impairs public health authorities’ ability to have an accurate sense of the scope of the issue and how best to allocate resources. Surveillance of trends in risk factors or outbreaks of HCV infection can be predictive and inform how to develop successful pre-emptive interventions that stop a potential disease outbreak in a region or population before it starts. To that end, the first project to be undertaken by our Hepatitis C Policy Project is to convene key thought leaders, government officials and advocacy partners at an upcoming meeting to address the paucity of data and surveillance strategies for HCV in the U.S. and develop strategies to create a comprehensive and reliable statistical profile of HCV in this country.

DO YOUR PART TO AID THE HEPATITIS C EFFORT

The Hepatitis C Policy Project is committed to maintaining the conversation about Hepatitis C policy reform, and developing strategies to effect the needed changes. I urge all readers to do your part to raise awareness of the need for increased resource allocation and political support for Hepatitis C initiatives. Inform your local and national legislative representatives that improving Hepatitis C treatment outcomes is important you, and it should be important to them. You can find out who your U.S. Representative is by doing a zip code search.

You can also talk to friends and family about the prevalence of the illness, risk factors, and encourage them to get tested and use precautions to protect themselves from infection. More information about Hepatitis C can be found on the HHS Viral Hepatitis webpage.

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