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22 July 2013

Hepatitis: a case of see no evil hear no evil speak no evil.

Pamela Anderson 3

What do Pamela Anderson the actor, and Billy Graham the wrestler have in common?

A quick search on Wikipedia will show you they both are reported to have had hepatitis C. Pamela got it apparently by sharing a needle for a tattoo, Billy by exposure of blood during competitions. Evel Knievel the dare devil stuntman got hepatitis C after a blood transfusion. WHO celebrates World Hepatitis Day on July 28th to raise awareness about this insidious disease with the theme of 3 monkeys and the ancient proverb “see no evil hear no evil speak no evil” to highlight how people are not communicating about this disease.

Hepatitis C and B are chronic diseases, passed by blood or other body fluids. Often symptomless for years they result in extensive liver damage and cancer. Their silent nature makes them particularly difficult to combat - people don’t make the link between the occasion they got infected and the disease, and don’t find it easy to stick to treatments that feel worse than their symptoms.  On top of that, although in many countries hepatitis B is a disease of childhood there is stigma associated with the infection in some countries because it can be sexually transmitted. Both illnesses are associated with injecting drug use.

The list of celebs with hepatitis C on Wikipedia is one way of breaking the taboo to get people talking about hepatitis C.  Airing the issue is important because less than half hepatitis C infected people know that they have the illness, according to recent research. While they don’t know they are ill they can be suffering liver damage  and spreading the disease. Ignorance isn’t bliss.

There has been no better time to break the silence around hepatitis because it is treatable and preventable. There is a vaccine for hepatitis B that can be used from birth. For hepatitis C, new antivirals are on the way that could herald a totally oral treatment with fewer side effects: several new protease inhibitors as well as a viral polymerase inhibitor. There are simple public health measures to stop disease spread too- safe sex with condoms, use of clean needles for injections of any kind, screening blood donations, mass vaccination.

In 2012 WHO established a Global Hepatitis programme to prevent and treat viral hepatitis and world leaders recommitted themselves at the 66th World Health Assembly to taking action. The Hepatitis coalition think WHO could do more to make treatment more available in lower income countries- by making some of the drugs part of the Essential Medicines list and funding better vaccination programmes

 See 'Latest research'  page on Global Health Knowledge Base for selected records about hepatitis C from Global Health database.


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