The first ever World Hepatitis Summit hosted by the Scottish Government and co-sponsored by the World Hepatitis Alliance and the World Health Organisation was held in Glasgow, 2-4 September 2015. Over eighty countries were represented at the Summit which brought together delegates from national governments, World Hepatitis Alliance member organisations, public health and the pharmaceutical industry.
There was a spine-tingling energy in the room for the opening of the Summit; many delegates remarked later that they had a clear sense that history was being made and the growing global commitment to addressing hepatitis could only be advanced as a result.
“We know how to prevent viral hepatitis, we have a safe and effective vaccine for hepatitis B, and we now have medicines that can cure people with hepatitis C and control hepatitis B infection,” said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the WHO’s Global Hepatitis Programme. “This summit is a wake-up call to build momentum to prevent, diagnose, treat - and eventually eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health problem.”
Voices from the affected community were powerful on the first day with individuals clearly articulating in personal terms some of the gaps in addressing viral hepatitis in different regions of the world. With viral hepatitis now ranked 7th on a table of leading causes of death worldwide, the importance of the development and implementation of hepatitis action plans in all countries was stressed.
"We can eliminate viral hepatitis as a major global killer but we must all work together to make that vision a reality,” said Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance.
Interestingly, Georgia was reported as the first country to set a goal of eliminating hepatitis. Georgia has set targets to have 95% of people living with hepatitis C diagnosed; 95% of those diagnosed linked to care; 95% of those linked to care treated and 95% of those treated, cured by 2020. Many will obviously be monitoring the implementation of this particular plan over the next 5-6 years.
To support other countries in development of national action plans, the Summit included a simulation exercise facilitated by the Coalition for the Eradication of Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific (CEVHAP). The WHO also launched a new manual for the development and assessment of national viral hepatitis plans at the summit.
WHO officials stressed the importance of national leadership and courage to take responsibility for eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health concern. The new language of elimination ‘as a public health concern’ is, I think, helpful – it seeks to set aside academic arguments of whether elimination of hepatitis is technically possible and supports a focus on key public health interventions which need to be scaled up, including hepatitis B vaccinations, harm reduction measures, access to hepatitis B treatment and hepatitis C cures.
The call for elimination began at the World Health Assembly in 2014 and is partially supported in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, goal 3.3. which mentions combating hepatitis. Clearly, hepatitis is on the global health agenda and the WHO is working on the development of a global strategy which includes relevant targets and the elimination of hepatitis. Their work to date was presented together with a discussion on the financing of elimination and how it can be made affordable. Their aim is to have a final draft of the global strategy and targets ready for ratification at the World Health Assembly in May 2016.
The Summit ended with the Glasgow Declaration which urges governments across the world to develop and fund national hepatitis plans and sign up to new global targets to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health concern when they are presented at the World Health Assembly in May next year.
Planning for the second World Hepatitis Summit has begun; it will take place in São Paulo, Brazil.