A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit warns that hepatitis C has become a "silent pandemic" which kills 350,000 people each year.
The report, funded by Johnson & Johnson's Janssen unit, speaks of the "urgent need for countries around the world to develop strategies to tackle head-on the growing social and economic issues associated with HCV". While the total number of infected individuals is unknown due to a lack of available data, the World Health Organisation estimates that 150 million people globally are currently living with the blood-borne infectious disease and up to two-thirds will develop chronic liver disease.
One in five will develop cirrhosis and HCV is also the leading cause of liver transplantation worldwide - in the USA, the disease now accounts for more deaths than HIV. The report states that it is now considered preventable and with modern treatments, the majority of suffers can become clear of the virus but as few as 10% of patients are currently receiving treatments "and there is a large disparity in care across countries".
The EIU team calls for "effective disease surveillance to create an accurate picture of the problem and ensure effective policies can be developed. They state that too few countries – developed or developing – "have recently conducted the epidemiological studies necessary for good policy-making at a national, let alone a local, level". Some 16 countries in the European Union alone have data "that is either poor or non-existent".
The report's authors also call for better public awareness "to help remove the stigma associated with the disease". The authors cite a survey by the European Liver Patients Association which found that only 20% of those diagnosed had heard of hepatitis B or C before being told they had it.
Commenting on the report, Charles Gore, president of the World Hepatitis Alliance, said it shows that "despite the significant burden of HCV, governments have failed to get a grip on the scale and impact of the disease". He added that "the true human and economic cost of HCV will continue to rise unless policymakers confront this urgent public health issue now".