The Silent C

A new recommendation report provides a global look at hepatitis C

Hep Talk by Larry Buhl

There’s good news and bad news about the hepatitis C epidemic, according to a new report titled, “The Silent Pandemic: Tackling Hepatitis C with Policy Innovation.” The good news: There are many new, effective drugs available and in the pipeline that can cure, not just treat, the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The bad news: There are strong barriers that are currently preventing people around the world from getting tested and seeking treatment.

The report, published January 15 by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and funded with an educational grant from Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, highlights the urgent need for countries around the world to develop strategies to tackle the growing social and economic issues associated with HCV.

While the total number of infected individuals is unknown due to a lack of available data, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 150 million people globally are currently living with HCV. Of these, up to two-thirds will develop chronic liver disease and one in five will develop cirrhosis.

Despite the devastating effects of HCV, the report states that it is now considered preventable and, with modern treatments, the majority of the infected can become clear of the virus, unlike other viruses such as HIV. The report notes, however, that as few as ten percent of patients are currently receiving treatments, and there is a large disparity in care across countries. Not surprisingly, developing countries fare poorly in identifying the infected and getting them into treatment, but no country is adequately meeting the challenge.

Gaston Picchio, Hepatitis Disease Area Leader for Janssen Research & Development, hopes it will provide a wake-up call to countries around the world.

“Hepatitis treatment is the fastest evolving field in medicine right now and the progress in the past four years has surpassed anything I’ve seen in my life,” Picchio tells A&U magazine. “But new medications, as effective as they are, can only be one part of an overall strategy to combat HCV around the world.”

The report concludes that countries must take a comprehensive approach, which takes into account local needs and resources available and includes:

• Effective disease surveillance to create an accurate picture of the problem and ensure effective policies can be developed. The report states that too few countries have recently conducted the epidemiological studies necessary for good policy-making at any level.

• Better public awareness to help remove the stigma associated with the disease and create better understanding of HCV.

• Prevention measures to reduce high-risk behavior and improve education on healthy lifestyle choices for those already infected. The report also calls for measures to prevent transmission via healthcare systems, which is the major route of transmission of HCV in developing countries.

• Innovative ways to reach out to patients to ensure those who need treatment receive it while it’s easier to cure.

Picchio admits that a key sticking point to putting any of these recommendations into action is money. “The CDC has just recommended cohort testing for all baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965, but they don’t have the money needed to conduct testing on that scale,” he tells A&U.

Governments around the world need to understand that money spent now will yield the greatest rewards, Picchio says. “It’s more cost-effective to identify and treat as many people as possible right now. Even if these recommendations are followed, we’re still anticipating a huge spike in [HCV-related] liver disease by the end of this decade.”

A full copy of the EIU report and supporting materials, including an infographic, is available by logging on to:

Larry Buhl is a radio news reporter, screenwriter, and novelist living in Los Angeles. His young adult novel, The Genius of Little Things, debuted in January 2013. His comic mystery novel, We’re Here to Help, will be available later in 2013.

Read the article in the March 2013 on our site by clicking here or off-site by clicking here.