On 7 June 2021, 130 signatories representing civil society and non-governmental organizations (CSOs and NGOs) committed to eliminating viral hepatitis, healthcare providers, patients, and communities living with or affected by HBV and HCV fighting for affordable, equitably accessible treatments and diagnostics sent an open letter to the Unitaid board and leadership urging the funding agency to continue making catalytic investments towards curing people with HCV and treating people with HBV and to enable low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to reach the World Health Organization targets and Sustainable Development Goal 3 by 2030 through funding and targeted action.
“… progress towards HBV and HCV elimination in the majority of countries is hampered by the difficulties of finding and diagnosing asymptomatic patients, due to complex and costly diagnostics and antiviral/direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) prices that are still unaffordable where generic access is not possible. We believe that CSOs, NGOs, community health workers, and affected communities, with the support of Unitaid and other partners, can help overcome these barriers and accelerate progress on all these fronts.”
Despite HCV and harm reduction programs saving lives, saving costs, proving cost-effective, and providing enormous returns on investment, the funding necessary to apply these innovations to accelerate treatment and diagnosis is absent. Global hepatitis programs are estimated at US$500 million annually – less than one-tenth of the US$5-6 billion required annually to achieve elimination by 2030. Global health funding for harm reduction is also dire, amounting to 5 percent of the US$2.7 billion required annually to meet global need.
The signatories “encourage Unitaid to help reinforce health systems during the pandemic and bridge funding gaps, thus playing a catalytic role to accelerate access to HBV and HCV diagnostics and treatments in LMICs.” Several strategies are proposed to make progress to global hepatitis targets:
- Expansion of awareness among decision-makers that HBV and HCV are diseases that can be eliminated by 2030 with existing tools but that need community education and participation, action plans, and financing;
- Development of financing mechanisms for viral hepatitis elimination;
- Support for simplified HBV and HCV diagnostic tools; and
- Support for access to simple and affordable DAA and HBV treatments in high-burden LMICs.
The full letter can be downloaded below.