Two faces, one staring ahead, one in profile. Each is comprised of a myriad of different skin tones, features, and colors.

The Faces of Hepatitis C

What is the face of hep C? The truth is it has many faces. Hep C affects people of all ages, all walks of life, and from all over the world. If you are one of the people who have been diagnosed, whether treated or not, you are one of the many; Some 71 million worldwide have been diagnosed with hep C, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).1

Who gets hep C?

The virus is an equal opportunity disease and it does not discriminate as to who it attacks. Perhaps you live somewhere where there is higher prevalence (number of those diagnosed), or lower, or you may be part of a unique age group or group with lower or higher prevalence for a variety of reasons. There are other factors that make the prevalence lower or higher. Injection drug use is one of the most frequently mentioned in North America, parts of Europe, and throughout the world. It is not the only mode of transmission even now, with medical procedures being a common transmission route worldwide. Outside the US, blood supplies are not universally safe even now, and sterilization procedures are in need of improvements.1Harm reduction practices need to be embraced and action is necessary as part of any response to the hep C pandemic.

Reaching Baby Boomers and people who use drugs

These are not new or particularly shocking pieces of information to people who are working in population health advocacy, or public health sectors. The increase or decrease of specific population data has changed from place to place and that is sometimes a reflection of a heightened response that a health agency or policy affects or doesn’t. It has been fascinating to observe these changes over the years, but it has also been frustrating in how slow the response has been in general. Some places are doing great work while others fall behind in adopting a plan, not to mention real actions; not surprisingly.

According to a data set that includes a cohort of two million who have been tested for hep c over 25 years, we see some not so encouraging features. Firstly, in people born between 1945-1965 (Baby Boomers), we see poor uptake on testing but good results with linkage to care/treatment.1 The second part is encouraging, but what about the lack of testing? We need improvement, we can all agree. Secondly, looking at people who inject drugs, we see more robust testing in urban areas but poor linkage to care - exactly the opposite of what the data shows about Baby Boomers. It is great that more people who use drugs are tested, but unless we are successful in treating more, we will never reach elimination of hep C as the WHO target suggests by 2030, not to mention improve quality of life for all.1

Looking to the future

This is looking at two populations only and by no means is this a reflection on the entire global picture. Clearly, there needs to be a better response to address these two groups, because with some exceptions, these two groups make up the most significant number of people affected by hep C in the US, Canada, and other so-called "developed" nations. So, who is the face of hep C? It can be anyone, and no one population is more deserving of the necessary testing and linkage to care and treatment. It can be any of us, and that is a farmer in Pakistan, people who used or use drugs, or a bus driver in London, and so on. It is me, and maybe you too.

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