Practice Center on HIV, Hepatitis C And Drug Use launches ‘Unite to eliminate HepC: Know it, test it, treat it’

On the occasion of World Hepatitis Day (July 28), the Practice Center on HIV, Hepatitis C and Drug Use, hosted by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, in partnership with a select group of Linking Organizations of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, have united to call for greater awareness and to mobilize community action for access to affordable hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing, diagnostics and treatment.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 185 million people worldwide are infected with HCV, including an estimated 4 to 5 million individuals who are chronically infected with both HCV and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Termed the “silent epidemic”, the vast majority of people are not aware they are infected with HCV because the initial stages have no symptoms. Left untreated, the virus inflames and eventually scars the liver, this sometimes leads to liver failure and liver cancer, and is the most common reason for liver transplants.

Up to 500,000 people die from HCV-related complications every year. In many countries, the number of deaths related to HCV has surpassed those caused by HIV. HCV disproportionally impacts people who inject drugs. This underscores the urgent need to address the public health threat posed by HCV worldwide. The vast majority of people with chronic HCV infection live in low- and middle-income countries, where access to HCV treatment remains very limited. New HCV drugs demonstrate cure rates of up to 100 percent, which have radically transformed how we think about hepatitis and raised the prospect of dramatically reducing death rates with the ultimate goal of eliminating HCV as a public health threat by scaling up the deployment of HCV treatment and promoting clean injections to prevent new and/or re-infections.

However, HCV treatment is currently unaffordable and not accessible to most patients in need, and people who inject drugs are systematically excluded from treatment programs. Unnecessary illness and death continue and the epidemic keeps spreading. The funds allocated by the national governments within the target programs are scarce and inadequate to mount a robust response to the epidemic. The prices for HCV treatment remain exorbitant. National governments, international agencies, donors, civil society organizations, and the pharmaceutical industry must unite to help assure that HCV treatment is affordable and accessible for all those who need it.

We call for global action to eliminate HCV before it becomes the new global killer disease:

  • Governments to develop comprehensive national hepatitis programs and allocate adequate resources to diagnose and treat HCV, allowing for priority access for those most affected by the disease; to include direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) into the List of Essential Medicines and apply all the possible legal means for ensuring access to treatment including TRIPS flexibilities;
  • International Donors to allocate resources for procurement of DAAs and diagnostic tools;
  • Civil Society to mobilize and launch awareness and advocacy campaigns and proactively approach governments and donors for support;
  • Pharmaceutical Companies to dramatically reduce prices for HCV treatment to ensure access for all those in need.

The Alliance Linking Organizations, supported by the Practice Center on HIV, Hepatitis C and Drug Use, are taking concrete actions to raise awareness and mitigate the impact of HCV.

INDIA: India HIV/AIDS Alliance and MAMTA are advocating with pharmaceutical companies and state departments to bring HCV treatment issue under their national programs; provide prevention of HBV and/or HCV infection among communities at risk and introduce early management of the infection among persons newly diagnosed or living with HBV and/or HCV; educate and link patients with insurance and other schemes supported by government and/or private sector to address the patient’s needs associated with the disease.

KENYA: KANCO has launched a campaign which offers free HBV testing and vaccination for people who inject drugs nationwide between 27-31 July 2015. This campaign will also offer antibody testing for HCV.

UKRAINE: As a result of the All-Ukrainian “Demand Treatment!” advocacy campaign launched in 2012, Alliance Ukraine managed to raise HCV awareness, mobilize communities, partner with NGOs, health care professionals across all Ukrainian regions, significantly reduce prices for HCV diagnostics and treatment, and conduct the procurement of sofosbuvir within a new pilot HCV treatment program in May 2015 for 1,500 patients, including those with HCV and HIV co infection and people who use drugs, funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The new program is based on a community initiated treatment approach, which prioritizes and enables individuals most in need to be treated first. Expansion of this program is being planned for 2016. This will provide a solid base for further treatment scale-up in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region.

EASTERN EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA (EECA): The Practice Center on HIV, Hepatitis C and Drug Use, Alliance Ukraine, ITPCru and Access HCV Treatment published a report in April 2015 entitled “Hepatitis C in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: Epidemic and Response” that summarizes data from 10 low- and middleincome countries of the EECA region with a focus on availability of HCV medicines, treatment guidelines, national/donor treatment programs, and civil society involvement in the HCV response. This pioneering report also offers possible future steps that could be taken by civil society to improve access to HCV treatment. To download a copy of the full report, please go to: http://bit.ly/1HvAn0a

Join Unite to Eliminate HepC Campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – change your social media profile picture in support of the campaign (download images here) and use hashtag #EliminateHepC to have your say. Send your selfie with campaign logo to our Facebook page in support of the campaign.

Alliance Linking Organizations who have joined the campaign:

Source: International HIV/AIDS Alliance