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The first official World Hepatitis Day, 28th July

28 July 2011 -- World Health Organization has declared the 28th July as World Hepatitis Day. The slogan for this first year is "Know it. Confront it. Hepatitis affects everyone, everywhere".

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. This week we focus on the first official World Hepatitis Day.

Viral hepatitis is one of the most prevalent and serious infectious diseases in the world. To increase awareness of viral hepatitis, the diseases and discrimination it causes, the World Health Organization has declared the 28th July as World Hepatitis Day. The slogan for this first year is "Know it. Confront it. Hepatitis affects everyone, everywhere".

Dr Steve Wiersma, the focal point for viral hepatitis issues at WHO, tells us about the prevalence of the disease.

Dr Steven Wiersma: "Hepatitis is one of the most common infectious diseases. It causes a huge burden of disease. We are talking about half a billion or 500 million people that are infected with this disease and most of those people have no idea that they are infected. Viral hepatitis infects people that are rich, that are poor regardless of their ethnic affiliation or religion affiliation - it is really something that is truly global.

Veronica Riemer: In her message on World Hepatitis Day, Dr Margaret Chan, WHO's Director-General, explains the impact on global health.

Dr Margaret Chan: Each year nearly one million deaths are attributed to infections with viral hepatitis. Worldwide, hepatitis viruses B and C, are the leading cause of liver cancer, accounting for more than 75% percent of cases. Hepatitis A and E viruses are transmitted by food and water and continue to cause outbreaks around the world.

Veronica Riemer: Outbreaks of hepatitis result in significant illness and deaths, especially in pregnant women. Outbreaks can be enormously disruptive for trade and tourism. Dr Chan urges that more needs to be done.

Dr Margaret Chan: My first advice to people: get tested. Many millions of people are chronic carriers of these viruses, show no symptoms, and yet develop severe, life-threatening disease later in life. Knowing your status helps you take measures to protect your own health and that of your family.

Veronica Riemer: Today safe and effective vaccines are widely available to prevent Hepatitis A and B and blood screening before transfusion can prevent transmission of Hepatitis B and C. Gregg Allman, a rock and blues singer, guitarist and songwriter, and a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band was diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C in 1999. In 2010 he underwent a liver transplant because of the disease's ravaging effects on his body. He is now back in good health and lending his voice to raise awareness of hepatitis C including a benefit concert to encourage others to take action. He tells us about his experience with the disease.

Gregg Allman: I didn't have any energy at all, I had lethargy real bad. After about a week and a half of it, I figured something was wrong. My doc told me that I could have hep. C and he did a blood test and it was positive.

(Music from Gregg Allman) I'm not gonna fool you. It was rough, it was very rough. But sometimes you gotta bite the bullet to get through hard times (Music from Gregg Allman).

Veronica Riemer: Charles Gore is the President of the World Hepatitis Alliance, an umbrella organization of patient groups around the world, and a key partner in promoting the World Hepatitis Day. He is also living with hepatitis C, and explains why this World Hepatitis Day is groundbreaking.

Charles Gore: This first official World Hepatitis day is very important because what it does is sends a signal to people living with viral hepatitis that the world cares about this as an issue. Viral hepatitis has never received very much publicity, it is not talked about and consequently if you say to people, "What is hepatitis?" they don't know. If you say "What is the difference between A, B and C?" they don't know, and that is something we absolutely have to change.

Veronica Riemer: People living with hepatitis have not only the problems of the disease itself, but also they often have to deal with stigma and discrimination.

Charles Gore: It impacts on people's access to employment, jobs, it impacts on access to education and often it is more general social ostracization. The key problem with stigma is that it undermines efforts to tackle hepatitis which means that it has to be looked at the same time as all the other interventions around awareness prevention, access to testing and treatment. What stigma does is that it makes people assume that it is just other people who are infected or at risk so it stops people listening to awareness messages and prevention messages and it also stops people coming forward to get tested and also to get treatment because they fear the consequences of doing that.

Veronica Riemer: So what is the World Health Organization doing to address the multiple health and social problems associated with viral hepatitis? Dr Steve Wiersma explains.

Dr Steve Wiersma: WHO has developed a comprehensive strategy. The strategy involves getting the message out like we are doing on World Hepatitis Day, involves collecting more data, involves strengthening the success stories that we have already been involved in in the areas of prevention, but most importantly involves addressing these chronic disease issues. We are talking about screening people who might not know they are infected, providing care and ultimately treatment so that we can save their lives.

Veronica Riemer: Just as Greg Allman told his story, the World Hepatitis Alliance is encouraging all people living with hepatitis across the world to send in their stories to the Alliance website. The goal is to show that this something that affects us all, hepatitis is everywhere and it affects everyone. If you want to share your story, with your name or anonymously send it in to the World Hepatitis Alliance web site. Visit www.worldhepatitisalliance.org. That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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