A message from WHA President, Dr Su Wang
World Hepatitis Day 2020 is an important landmark for the hepatitis community. We are now just ten years away from the 2030 elimination targets set out by WHO in 2016. With concerted effort over the next decade we can eliminate this global killer and save millions of lives.
Sadly, 2020 is also the year the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world. The crisis has had a significant impact on the viral hepatitis community, with prevention, testing and treatment services affected and many people living with viral hepatitis facing difficulties in obtaining the care and medications they need. I am acutely aware of how the pandemic has affected World Hepatitis Alliance members and your plans for World Hepatitis Day. But I know the resilience of our membership in the face of adversity, and I have full faith that the hepatitis community will utilise every opportunity to raise awareness on 28 July.
World Hepatitis Day is our day to speak in a united voice and to celebrate how far we have come towards eliminating viral hepatitis. It also gives us time to pause and reflect on the countless lives that have been lost to these diseases despite there being a vaccine and effective treatment for hepatitis B and a cure for hepatitis C. This year on World Hepatitis Day, the World Hepatitis Alliance and the NOhep movement are calling on policy makers to keep the promise they made to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. Viral hepatitis is a global health crisis, but one that can be overcome.
Progress is being made. Over 124 countries have developed, or are developing, elimination strategies. However, many of these strategies do not have funding. WHA has released a new report from India Punjab State which lays out the financial case for hepatitis C elimination. It shows that scaling up their response to ensure they reach elimination by 2030 is not only achievable but is cost saving. These financial cases are imperative as the world enters a period with a difficult financial outlook. It will be far too easy for governments to do nothing, however investing in hepatitis elimination now will save money, strengthen health systems and avert over 7 million deaths. One of the easiest and most cost-effective interventions is the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT).
On World Hepatitis Day, the World Health Organization will be releasing new guidelines on PMTCT, an issue which is particularly close to my heart. As someone living with hepatitis B and a mother, one of the most important milestones in my life was seeing that the PMTCT interventions worked, and my children all tested immune and they are hepatitis B free. I do not have to live with the burden of having passed on this lifelong infection to my children. It is an unconscionable that with the tools we have available, there are still many children infected every year with hepatitis B. We must ensure that birth dose is given to all children. But that alone is not enough- all pregnant women must be screened for hepatitis B so that we can identify those who may need antiviral treatment to prevent transmission to their infants and also for their own health. Countries must integrate hepatitis into maternal and child health services in order to protect their next generation. This must also been seen as woman’s health issue because elimination will not be achieved without gender equality.
It is my sincerest wish that World Hepatitis Day 2020 is a catalyst for action, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us raise our collective voices and work together to eliminate hepatitis.
Thank you for your commitment, and I wish you a highly successful World Hepatitis Day.
Dr. Su Wang President