What is World Hepatitis Day?
World Hepatitis Day, held annually on July 28, is a day sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to promote awareness of Hepatitis around the world, and encourage testing, treatment and vaccinations. It is held on July 28 to mark the birth of Baruch Samuel Blumberg, discoverer of the hepatitis B virus.
Millions of people around the world are affected by hepatitis. Of particular concern in the community are hep B and hep C, as these two viruses can become lifelong chronic conditions if they are not tested for and treated. Steven Drew, CEO of Hepatitis NSW, emphasised the importance of being tested for hep C, by telling Pivot Point that “A person can have hep C without knowing it. The only way to know if you have it is by a blood test. You can’t tell someone has hep C just by looking at them.” Steven told Pivot Point that someone living with hep C might only feel some tiredness, but even then it isn’t noticeable. However, if hep B or C goes unnoticed and untreated, it can cause severe liver damage. It might take 10-20 years for this to occur, and in that time, a person is able to transmit the virus to someone else unknowingly.
In Australia, we are vaccinated against hep B, and while there’s no vaccination for hep C, treatment is simple and effective, with over 95% of people getting cured. Getting cured, Steven tells us, “is a burden lifted off someone’s shoulders. People don’t often notice how tired they were until they’re cleared of the virus. It’s one less thing to worry about.”
Hep C affects all communities in Australia, including sexuality and gender diverse communities. Within our communities, people who inject drugs and people who are living with HIV may be more susceptible to Hep C. Hep C is spread through blood to blood contact, it is not a sexually transmitted infection but there is evidence that some types of sex carry a risk for Hep C, especially sex involving blood. You can read more about hep C transmission during sex here. We recognise that many in our communities enjoy the types of sex that may carry a risk for hep C, so World Hepatitis Day presents a good opportunity for us to brush up on our hep awareness!
What is Hepatitis Awareness Week?
In NSW, Hepatitis Awareness Week is held over the seven days surrounding World Hepatitis Day, as a chance to highlight messages around hep B and hep C for people in NSW. The purpose of this week, Steven tells us, is to “applaud our successes, highlight the needs, and advocate for change” surrounding awareness of Hepatitis and its treatment. The overall goal is to “get people into treatment in the most empowering and destigmatising way.” What matters is that people can access treatment; how they contracted the virus is irrelevant.
What is happening for Hepatitis awareness this year?
This year, we’re focusing on access to treatment for hep C. You can read more about hep C, its transmission, and treatment at Hepatitis NSW. Hepatitis NSW and the NSW Users and AIDS Association (NUAA) have launched their ‘Clearing the Path’ campaign, designed to promote treatment of hep C, and reduce the stigma of being treated. The campaign focuses on the fact that treatment is simple, effective, and accessible. It’s designed to debunk the myths of hep C treatment in a non-judgemental way, and encourage people to think about getting tested and treated for hep C.
The focus of Hepatitis Awareness Week this year is on this campaign. There will be a webinar forum on World Hepatitis Day, you can register for that via Crowdcast. For more information, visit Hepatitis NSW, and in particular, their Key Services.