Liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide, resulting in 800,000 lives lost each year. What many people don’t know is that a staggering 80% of deaths are caused by viral hepatitis, a disease that has preventative vaccines (hepatitis B) and a curative treatment (hepatitis C), meaning that over 600,000 liver cancer deaths each year are avoidable.
If the majority of these deaths are entirely preventable, why does liver cancer continue to claim the lives of so many?
If the majority of these deaths are entirely preventable, why does liver cancer continue to claim the lives of so many? And how do we begin to count that in terms of children who have lost a parent, people who have lost a friend, societies that have lost a great mind? The answer is simple; 95% of people living with viral hepatitis are unaware of this, and of those who do know their status, less than 1% have access to life-saving medical interventions.
Last year, at the 69th World Health Assembly, 194 countries adopted the World Health Organization’s first-ever Global Health Sector Strategy for viral hepatitis, which presents a clear commitment to eliminate hepatitis B and C by 2030. Combatting these cancer-causing viruses by 2030 is also a target of the Sustainable Development Goals. If these commitments are upheld by governments, we can greatly reduce the number of cancer deaths globally.
We, as civil society, seek to hold authorities accountable to their promises and with our membership of over 240 organisations in 82 countries, we are working to ensure that these targets are reached. Here’s how we all can make a difference:
- Advocating for equal access to vaccines and treatment is something that we can all do, and something that will greatly reduce the number of liver cancer cases. We need to ensure that all children receive preventative vaccinations against hepatitis B at birth, and that everyone has access to life-saving treatment for hepatitis C, no matter their circumstances.
- Raising awareness and encouraging routine testing as symptoms do not always manifest themselves in someone who has viral hepatitis. Without timely diagnosis and treatment, viral hepatitis can progress into cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- Breaking down the stigma surrounding hepatitis as well as the fear of getting tested is crucial to improving the rates and speed of diagnosis.
- Safe medical practices are key! It may shock you to hear that there are still 39 countries in the world that do not routinely screen blood donations for this infection. By 2030, we need to ensure that no one contracts viral hepatitis at the hands of medical professionals. It is also crucial that we detect viral hepatitis in pregnant women so we can take steps to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
The elimination of viral hepatitis is a reality, and it’s happening now.
World Cancer Day on 4 February is a perfect opportunity to unite people around the world to fight against cancer together, under the theme #WeCanICan. This year, we have a very real opportunity to make a difference on a global scale. The elimination of viral hepatitis is a reality, and it’s happening now. Together, we have the power to fight for prevention, as well a cure: #WeCanICan stop liver cancer BEFORE it strikes, BEFORE it disempowers, and BEFORE it kills.
For more information on viral hepatitis, please visit the World Hepatitis Alliance website.
Read the WHO Global Health Sector Strategy for viral hepatitis here.