Hepatitis is a global issue and requires a global response. The theme for World Hepatitis Day 2021 is ‘Hep Can’t Wait’ – a reference to the urgent need to eliminate the spread of the virus.

World Hepatitis Day is on 28 July and this year will promote the theme of ‘Hep Can’t Wait’. World Hepatitis Day has run since 2004, and marks the birthday of Professor Baruch Samuel Blumberg, who discovered the hepatitis B virus. It is one of just nine public health days to be officially mandated by the World Health Organisation.

Facts about hepatitis C

  • Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, and one of the main ways it is transmitted is through people sharing injecting equipment.
  • When the virus is first contracted, most people either do not experience any noticeable symptoms, or experience symptoms that are similar to many other short-term infections – which means they may not seek medical attention, and if they do, doctors would not necessarily suspect or test for hepatitis C.
  • A positive test for hepatitis C antibodies indicates exposure to the hepatitis C virus at some point, but does not confirm a current infection.
  • A small proportion of those infected with hepatitis C will naturally clear the virus from their body in the first six months. Estimates from Public Health England, however, suggest that 3 in 4 people will develop a chronic infection.

With more than 1.1 million deaths each year from hepatitis B and C, this year’s theme focuses on the importance of acting now to identify, prevent, and treat hepatitis. The campaign emphasises that efforts to eliminate hepatitis must be increased now rather than waiting until the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Those kinds of delays would lead to preventable deaths – one person dies every 30 seconds from hepatitis – particularly among marginalised groups, including people who use drugs.

Treatments for hepatitis are improving all the time. Treatment for hepatitis C used to involve interferon and ribavirin, but it is now often treated using potent direct acting antiviral drugs, which have greater levels of treatment success and less side effects. However, across the world many people do not even know that they live with hepatitis B or C, which means they will not receive treatment.

In the past year, the SSA talked to Julian Surey about the EU funded HepCare project using peer support workers in the Find&Treat team to link people in underserved populations with care for hepatitis C. The SSA also covered news from the US about how new policies might affect provision of needle exchange services.

One of the recommendations of the Professor Dame Carol Black review is that the Department of Heath and Social Care works together with NHS England to improve access to physical healthcare, in part to ensure that people who use drugs get access to testing and treatment for hepatitis C as well as HIV and other diseases.

Hepatitis C is an important issue for all people involved in addiction policy, research, and treatment. See the links and resources below for further reading on the topic:

by Rob Calder and Natalie Davies

The opinions expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the SSA.

The SSA does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of the information in external sources or links and accepts no responsibility or liability for any consequences arising from the use of such information.


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