‘Time Is Right’ To Address Viral Hepatitis

With the number of deaths worldwide caused by viral hepatitis comparable to the numbers caused by HIV, malaria and tuberculosis (TB), “it is clear that a major cause of global mortality has been consistently overlooked and neglected,” Charles Gore, president of World Hepatitis Alliance, writes in The Guardian’s “Global Development Professionals Network” blog. Addressing the viruses that cause hepatitis is challenging because they “cut across many parts of a health ministry; for example immunization, HIV, food and water safety, blood safety, injection safety and cancer,” Gore writes, adding, “Yet in a world increasingly skeptical of vertical programs, this is an advantage because a comprehensive hepatitis policy looks much more like a program to strengthen the whole health system. Equally, because most of these areas will have their own programs, any hepatitis program will need to be integrated, leveraging existing infrastructure.”

“There has been some recent progress in persuading governments to develop national hepatitis strategies, and adopting the 2010 WHO resolution,” which created World Hepatitis Day, Gore notes, adding that “[a]dvocacy is working and viral hepatitis is on the agenda for the World Health Assembly in 2014.” However, “one of the biggest challenges lies just ahead,” he writes, noting negotiations of the post-2015 development goals. “If HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria are included, for example as indicators in the health goal, but viral hepatitis is not, it will be a huge setback,” he states, adding, “The omission of viral hepatitis from all major global health initiatives to date has massively impeded the flow of resources.” Gore concludes, “Too much of health prioritization is decided by what one might call fashion and so often fashion is about timing. Hepatitis has never been in fashion. Maybe finally the time is right” (8/9).

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