The inaugural World Hepatitis Summit is being held in Glasgow’s SECC, running from 2nd to 4th Stepmber.
The conference has been organised jointly by the World Health Association (WHO) and the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA). It is being hosted by the Scottish government and supported by Glasgow Caledonian University, and aims to “address the overwhelming global burden of viral hepatitis” by bringing policymakers, clinicians, patients and stakeholders together.
It is a genuinely global event, with a number of representatives from every continent in attendance including several world leaders.
After years of neglect, and with hepatitis-related deaths rising, the focus of the summit is firmly on the public health approach to combating hepatitis. With much being needed to be done rapidly to make up for lost time, the conference is intended to act as a central forum for countries to share their experience and best practice in order to drive rapid advances in national responses.
WHO estimates that over 400 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B and C, and that hepatitis was the cause of approximately 1.4 million deaths last year.
New data has confirmed that there is a relentless year on year rise in the number of deaths. Viral hepatitis now kills more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria and has become the 7th biggest annual killer globally.
While it is recognised that viral hepatitis is a global killer, and is one of the top ten causes of death around the world, so far there has been a notable absence of co-ordinated, international action to combat hepatitis and its effects. The main purpose of the World Hepatitis Summit is to highlight and address the overdue need for co-ordinated action and a global forum “to examine public health approaches to the disease”.
Since WHA67.R6 resolution was adopted at the 67th World Health Assembly in 2014, viral hepatitis has gradually gained the much needed attention and profile it deserves. However, improvements are slow and a great deal of work lies ahead. Several WHO member states have called on WHO to take a lead in developing a worldwide stretegy on hepatitis.
The summit will be supporting this resolution, around which it will promote significant advances via the development of national hepatitis action plans, improvements in education and awareness, and strengthening the voices of those affected with hepatitis.
The summit’s draft strategy hopes to achieve, by 2030, a 90% reduction in new cases of chronic hepatitis B and C, a 65% reduction in hepatitis B and C deaths and for 80% of treatment eligible persons with chronic hepatitis B and C infections to be treated.
While these targets are clearly ambitious, the WHA believes they are achievable if governments commit to putting in place strategies to ensure better prevention, detection and access to treatment.
Charles Gore, President of the WHA, said: “We already have almost all the tools needed to eliminate viral hepatitis. What we don’t have yet is the commitment, the know-how and the funding to use these tools. This Summit is about empowering countries to take the practical steps needed at a national level; it is about how to take a vision and make it happen.”
Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the WHO Department of HIV/AIDS and Global Hepatitis Programme, added: “We have seen from the global response to HIV what can be achieved when governments, civil society, international organizations and the private sector work together to provide prevention and treatment services to those who need them. The time is now for everyone to come together and work toward eliminating viral hepatitis as a major public health threat.”
Hosting the summit in Glasgow is quite fitting given that the Scottish government is widely recognised as having “a world leading approach” towards the testing and treatment of hepatitis C. In 2004, the Scottish government recognised that “Hepatitis C is one of the most serious and significant public health risks of our generation” and in 2006 launched the Hepatitis C Action Plan.
Health minister Shona Robison said: “I am delighted that Scotland is once again opening its doors to the world to host the first ever World Hepatitis Summit. I can think of no better location than a country which has been recognised as a world leader in our approach to tackling hepatitis C.
“The innovation of new therapies for hepatitis C is a watershed moment for viral hepatitis, and we have recognised the importance of this by increasing our national treatment targets for the disease. We must also not lose focus on the vital issue of prevention of disease. Scotland will continue to invest in prevention initiatives and this must be a central part of any national and international plan.
“There also couldn’t be a better time to launch our updated Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework. I am pleased to say that Scotland is committed to eliminating hepatitis C as a public health problem within Scotland – something that I am proud that we can realistically commit to achieving only because of the foundation work we have laid over the past ten years.”
Hepatitis Scotland is currently running a series of events across Scotland and to coincide with the summit the charity is holding an awareness evening at Glasgow’s Whiteinch Centre, looking at “facts and fictions”, explaining what support is available and providing information on recent advances in treatment and care.