With mortality rates comparable to HIV/Aids, TB and malaria, is it time the global health community addressed viral hepatitis with the urgency it needs?
In December 2012 the global burden of disease project released its mortality data for 2010. It reported that viral hepatitis caused 1,445,000 deaths. This compares with 1,465,000 from HIV/Aids, 1,196,000 from TB and 1,169,000 from malaria. And this is not some new phenomenon suddenly emerging from nowhere.
Viral hepatitis mortality in 1990 was just under 1m. Given those figures and the relative profile and priority of the diseases, it is clear that a major cause of global mortality has been consistently overlooked and neglected. For example, hepatitis does not feature in the MDGs, despite its prevalence in many developing countries in Asia and Africa. Nor are treatment and prevention programmes financed though the global fund.
Before people living with hepatitis took action in 2008 there was not a single person in the WHO with 'hepatitis' in their job title. How was that possible in the face of such a global burden?
There has been some recent progress in persuading governments to develop national hepatitis strategies, and adopting the 2010 WHO resolution.
Prior to 2008 no-one had looked at viral hepatitis, not least because the viruses that cause it are different, making messaging complex, and because they cut across many parts of a health ministry; for example immunisation, HIV, food and water safety, blood safety, injection safety and cancer.