Did you know that every 30 seconds, a person dies from a hepatitis related illness? On World Hepatitis Day, which is observed on July 28th every year, we aim to call on people across the globe and raise awareness of hepatitis. Today, we look to encourage a call to action, ultimately aiming to promote prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
So, what is viral hepatitis? Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These 5 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread.
While this is a global health issue, many are simply unaware of the worldwide impact of hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis B and C are life-threatening diseases that more than 300 million people are currently living with. These two types of the virus are known as a “silent epidemic”, as globally 80% of those living with hepatitis C and 90% of people living with hepatitis B are unaware. In Canada, even with the increased access to treatment, 25% of people living with hepatitis C remain unaware. These two strains cause liver damage and disease, cancer, and premature death. Due to the reality that the vast majority of carriers are unaware, there is a high rate of unknowingly transmitting the infection to others, further perpetuating this silent epidemic. This infection is commonly found in children and marginalized populations, and the BC Centre for Disease Control highlight that hepatitis C disproportionately affects the following six populations:
The theme for 2021 World Hepatitis Day is “Hep can’t wait!” As seen on the World Hepatitis Day website, there are so many ways in which the world cannot wait. Those who are unaware living with viral hepatitis can’t wait for testing. Expectant mothers can’t wait for hepatitis screening and treatment. Newborn babies can’t wait for vaccinations. People affected by hepatitis can’t wait for life saving treatments, and they also certainly can’t wait for the stigma and discrimination to end. Community organizations can’t wait for greater investment. Beyond that, decision makers can’t wait to act and create policy.
There are effective vaccines and treatments that target hepatitis B and a cure for hepatitis C. What does this mean? It means that the elimination of viral hepatitis is attainable, NOT impossible, so long as we move forward with the mantra of “hepatitis can’t wait!” The first steps to achieving this goal of elimination is increasing awareness of the disease, educating people on risk, and allowing access to affordable treatment and diagnostics.
To protect yourself against viral hepatitis, and decrease the likelihood of continuing the spread, there are many actions that can be taken:
The ASK Wellness Society started off as the AIDS Society of Kamloops. While we now offer a variety of programs and supports, we continue to be guided by our societal roots in working towards the eradication and treatment of blood borne infection. Our Health Navigation team is here to walk alongside people throughout the treatment process, in providing harm reduction, emotional support, education and advocacy. For further information on the program, check out the Kamloops and Merritt Health pages of the website.
Today, and every day, we stand alongside those in the fight to eliminate hepatitis and other blood borne infections. The following infographics from BC Centre for Disease Control and World Hepatitis Alliance provide further helpful information for those of us who appreciate more visual facts.