July 28th is World Hepatitis Day. The theme this year is “Finding the Missing Millions,” reflecting the estimate that worldwide, 290 million people living with viral hepatitis are not aware of their infection, a serious problem. Hepatitis can lead to chronic liver disease. Therefore, promoting testing for this preventable virus can zero in on those who are already infected, ensuring that they begin treatment, which will lead to improved health outcomes.
Timely diagnoses and treatment for chronic health conditions is important at any time, but amid the global pandemic, it becomes even more critical. People with preexisting and chronic health conditions, including hepatitis, have been found to be at greater risk of severe illness if they develop COVID-19. Employers can improve the health and well-being of their workforce by implementing programs to promote vaccinations, address stigma and encourage diagnosis and treatment.
Why Focus on Hepatitis? Look at the numbers:
9 out of 10 people living with hepatitis do not know.
In the U.S., an estimated 3.5 million people live with chronic hepatitis C.
Hepatitis B is preventable. Vaccines are 95% effective.
|WHO goals include reducing deaths from viral hepatitis infection by 2030 by increasing diagnosis, care, treatment and vaccinations.|
There are various types of hepatitis. While hepatitis A does not cause long- term liver damage, it can cause acute liver failure in older adults who already have liver issues.1 Hepatitis B and C are more similar in their impact on the liver and can be chronic. Left untreated over time, hepatitis C can lead to serious liver damage and failure.
Several therapies offering high cure rates (ranging from 90%-100% depending on the therapy) and significantly shortened treatment times have entered the market in recent years. They have transformed the management of hepatitis C, reducing the disease’s morbidity and mortality rates. However, such therapies come at a high cost for the patients and the payers. The United States Preventive Services Task Force and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend screening for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in people at higher than average risk. One higher risk population in the U.S. includes adults born between 1945 and 1965.
Many people with chronic hepatitis B, or Hep B, were infected at birth or during early childhood. If left undiagnosed and unmonitored, chronic hepatitis B can cause serious complications, including liver cancer and liver failure. Generic tenofovir (brand name Viread), one of the first-line antiviral treatments for hepatitis B, has undergone a 90% price reduction worldwide due to Gilead’s global patent expiration. There are seven approved drugs for Hep B.2 Currently, pegylated interferon alfa (PEG-IFN-a), entecavir (ETV), and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) are all first-line agents in the treatment of hepatitis B disease.3
What Can Employers Do?
Employer actions can be most effective in three main areas: addressing stigma, enabling access and promoting health through vaccinations and chronic condition management. In some countries, employees face stigma and discrimination in the workplace due to misconceptions about transmission.
Employers can take the following steps:
- Raise awareness with your workforce on prevention and transmission.
- Include World Hepatitis Day as part of your company’s well-being communications.
- Promote vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, as well as other preventable diseases.
- Educate your workforce about the importance of continuing to manage and seek treatment for their chronic conditions during the pandemic. Raise awareness that those with chronic conditions are potentially more vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19.
- Review coverage design in your local plans and close gaps where they exist.
- Join the leading companies that have signed onto the JoinJade Employer Collaborative. Through its actions the Collaborative has touched over 500,000 employees across China and the Bay Area of the United States. Those who participate in the Collaborative receive direct support from its partner, Asian Liver Center at Stanford University in China and the U.S.
Additional Business Group Resources
- Partnering for Employee Health: Addressing Hepatitis B (HBV) in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers
- Hepatitis B: Promoting Education and Discrimination-Free Workplaces in China
- The Shifting Landscape of Hepatitis C Drug Marketplace: Generics on the Horizon
- New Entrants Create Price Competition & Drive New Formulary Solutions in Hepatitis C Market
- Global Minimum Core Benefits - Business Case and Framework
- CDC article – What to Know about Liver Disease and COVID-19
- World Hepatitis Day organization materials – Find the Missing Millions
- World Health Organization (WHO) – World Hepatitis Day is one of WHO’s seven officially mandated global public health days
- Health Affairs publication on impact of achieving Hepatitis B diagnosis & treatment targets
- Lancet article on Transforming Treatment for hepatitis C
- 1 | Mayo Clinic. Hepatitis A. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-a/symptoms-causes/syc-20367007#:~:text=Unlike%20other%20types%20of%20viral,people%20with%20chronic%20liver%20diseases. Accessed July 27, 2020.
- 2 | Hepatitis B Foundation. Approved drugs for adults. https://www.hepb.org/treatment-and-management/treatment/approved-drugs-for-adults/. Accessed July 27, 2020.
- 3 | Medscape. Which agents are used as first-line treatment for hepatitis B (HBV) (Hep B)? https://www.medscape.com/answers/177632-76809/which-agents-are-used-as-first-line-treatment-for-hepatitis-b-hbv-hep-b#:~:text=Currently%2C%20pegylated%20interferon%20alfa%20(PEG,treatment%20of%20hepatitis%20B%20disease. Accessed July 27, 2020.
- 4 | The World Health Organization. World Hepatitis Day 2020 (video). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7bGXqstewg. Accessed July 28, 2020.