World Hepatitis Day brings progress, setbacks, protests, and a petition

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Sunday is World Hepatitis Day, and publications, protests and petitions are highlighting issues surrounding an epidemic traditionally shrouded in silence that affects more than 500 million people worldwide.

CoverThe good news comes with Prevention and Management of Hepatitis C Virus Infection Among People Who Inject Drugs: Moving the Agenda Forward, a supplement to Clinical Infectious Diseases which includes the first recommendations for the management of hepatitis C among people who inject drugs. Supported by research, the recommendations could greatly reduce the toll of liver disease among a highly affected population among whom a miniscule percent receive treatment. The global recommendations, online now, address barriers facing injecting drug users and the need for a supportive environment.

Protest Uncropped

Photo courtesy ITPCru

In the meantime, with the average price of treatment for hepatitis C around $15,000 in Russia, protesters carrying signs saying “Roche and Merck are killing us” picketed Moscow’s Ministry of Health office,  one in a series of demonstrations around the world drawing attention to 15 years of high pricing of the treatment’s main component by manufacturers Roche and Merck. Similar events have occurred in recent days, or are set to, around the world, including in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, India, Thailand, Moldova, Latvia, and the United States.

MissingYou shouldn’t hold your breath waiting to see Dr. Margaret Chan at any of the protests, according to the complaints voiced more than 1600 supporters worldwide of a petition calling on the World Health Organization Director to live up to her mandate to steer a global fight against viral hepatitis. They say she is missing from needed efforts to address:

  • Pharmaceutical company pricing that puts treatment “cruelly out of reach,”
  • Lack of screening, testing, and treatment in low and middle income countries that allow only a fraction of people with hepatitis C to know that they have it and then receive appropriate care
  • Barriers to treatment facing people who inject drugs, and insufficient access to sterile syringes — a “shocking public health failure [that] allows the epidemic to continue spreading.”

Finally, refusing to acknowledge a global pandemic is unwise, activists around the world hope to show, as they use a universal language to urge attention and dialogue around a stigmatized, ignored, neglected and deadly global disease. Team HBV is taking aim at the disease as well as the Guinness Book of World Records with the goal of getting record-breaking numbers of people around the world to rally and commemorate World Hepatitis Day with their hands over their eyes, ears, mouths, acting out the proverb of three supposedly wise monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

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