What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These five types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. Nevertheless, hepatitis is a disease that, in most of its viral forms, doesn’t need to kill.
What makes viral hepatitis a global health problem?
Worldwide, an estimated 325 million people suffer from viral hepatitis. It is the 7th leading cause of death globally, accounting for 1.3 million deaths per year – more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. Together, hepatitis B and hepatitis C cause 80% of liver cancer cases in the world.
Viral hepatitis is not found in one location nor among one set of people; it can affect people without showing any symptoms. Some 95% of people living with viral hepatitis are unaware that they have the disease, which means that they have a real possibility of developing fatal liver disease and of unknowingly transmitting hepatitis to others.
Today, more than 130 million people in south-east Asia alone, carry the hepatitis B or C virus, even though they may appear healthy. It usually strikes people at their most productive age. The hepatitis B virus is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV, and just as lethal.
In India, where we pioneered this project, viral hepatitis is now recognised as a serious public health problem, with an estimated 52 million people living with the illness, but where less than 1% have access to treatment, resulting in around 250,000 deaths in the country each year.
Yet with modern medical advances, hepatitis need not be a death sentence. New drugs can cure HCV and prevent mortality from HBV. The hepatitis B vaccine, given in childhood, can prevent the onset of the disease. The availability of effective vaccines and treatments means that the elimination of viral hepatitis is achievable, but greater awareness of the disease and the risks is a must, as is access to cheaper diagnostics and treatment.
‘taking hepatitis science to communities through film’ brings together top biomedical scientists working in the field of viral hepatitis, communications experts, and aspiring young filmmakers in a pioneering public-health project to communicate the advances that can save people’s lives.