IGHI’s November Global Health Forum brings together experts to discuss the current challenges in tackling viral hepatitis.
The Institute of Global Health Innovation’s Global Health Forum highlights, discusses and disseminates findings on current research and innovation on relevant global health topics. Focusing on viral hepatitis this month, the event was chaired by Professor Graham Cooke from Imperial’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
Viral hepatitis has gained increasing attention on a global scale due to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) campaign to eliminate the infection by 2030. Their own figures show that it caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015.
Professor Cooke opened the event by setting the scene for the global burden of viral hepatitis, discussing approaches to accelerate the elimination of the infection. He highlighted, “Compared to HIV and TB, the mortality rate is similar.” As the infection can lead to serious conditions including cirrhosis (scarring) and liver cancer, his work has found that viral hepatitis is the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. Professor Cooke spoke about his current work with the Lancet Commission to be published in the near future, which makes several recommendations including the need for a national focus to eliminate the infection.
Following on from this, Professor Timothy Hallett based at the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology presented on the process of bringing together a model for how to achieve the WHO’s goals on viral hepatitis. He explained that the campaign for elimination has been driven by the ambitions set out in the United Nations General Assembly’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Professor Hallett highlighted current work on measuring the impact of reducing the burden of infection, concluding that, “Even if we don’t reach these targets, it looks like huge progress will be made.”
Dr Shevanthi Nayagam, Clinical Lecturer and Hepatology Specialist Registrar from the Department of Surgery & Cancer, then gave her assessment of the successes and challenges of the hepatitis B birth dose vaccine. Dr Nayagam explained that there are a number of tools available to prevent mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B, such as drugs given during pregnancy. However these come with significant challenges including poor access to rural areas and cultural barriers, particularly in her research location of Africa.
Providing a perspective on the licensing of medication for hepatitis C, Bryony Simmons from Imperial’s Business School shared findings from her current research project. Her work suggests that voluntary licensing could be an effective strategy to improve treatment rates.
Before the panel of speakers took questions from the audience, Dr Marcus Dorner, Non-Clinical Lecturer in Immunology at the Faculty of Medicine, spoke on the vision of a cure for hepatitis B, which he described as a “complex infection”. As current treatment can only suppress the virus, he felt that a functional cure – where the virus is controlled but not eliminated – could provide an “intermediary solution”.
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
Photos and graphics subject to third party copyright used with permission or © Imperial College London.