The UK commits itself to the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030

On 28th May, at the 69th World Health Assembly, the UK joined with 193 other countries in adopting the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis 2016 - 2021. This strategy is the first of its kind, and commits all those adopting it to eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

Viral hepatitis is a leading cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer, and leads to an estimated 1.4 million deaths each year, more deaths than either HIV or malaria. The new strategy plans to increase the number of people receiving treatment by 80% and to reduce annual deaths globally by 65%; which could save over 7 million lives.

The strategy is based on countries taking practical and proven steps, including the use of the new treatments for hepatitis C, vaccinations for hepatitis B, and improved screening and awareness raising. All of these actions are affordable and, in the long term, cost effective for a high income country like the UK.

As of February 2016, only 36 of the 193 countries committed to the strategy already had national plans in place for tackling viral hepatitis, and a further 33 had plans in development. Despite the UK now being committed to the Global Viral Hepatitis Strategy, only the Scottish Government has currently made an explicit commitment to the elimination of hepatitis C as a public health threat at a domestic level.

NHS England has recently capped access to new treatments for hepatitis C to 10,011 patients per year, however the available evidence suggests that the elimination of hepatitis C as a public health threat will require the treatment of higher numbers of patients. In England, there is also a lack of a cohesive national strategy on hepatitis C, with a national improvement framework for hepatitis C, developed with the aim of linking the work of the NHS, Public Health England and local authorities, being subsequently shelved.

The combination of limiting access to treatment and the lack of a national strategy makes it unclear how England will meet the UK’s international commitment to eliminate hepatitis C a public health threat by 2030.