Currently, 400million people are living with viral hepatitis around the world, a liver disease that kills more people than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. In fact, 1.4million people are dying of hepatitis every year — that's 4000 people every day — a figure made all the more shocking and disgraceful, as this is an entirely preventable disease.

Awareness is crucial in the fight against viral hepatitis; although, generally, people’s understanding of the different hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D & E) and the damage they can cause to the liver, a vital organ, is scant at best. Whereas the life-threatening significance of heart disease is well understood by the public, more needs to be done to drive the message home about the dangers of viral hepatitis. For example, the hepatitis B and C viruses can cause long-term, life-threatening complications such as cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

This is why World Hepatitis Day — one of only four official disease-specific world health days endorsed by the World Health Organization — is such an important global event. It's a day which is the culmination of year-long initiatives, when communities join forces and engage in actions big and small to ask for better access to diagnosis and treatments and generally try to effect change. It is also a day when some individual governments announce the actions and strategies they are taking to fight the disease.

Prevention

WHD globe

This year, World Hepatitis Day is focusing on prevention. This means vaccination in the case of hepatitis B; and in the case of hepatitis C, where no vaccination is available, highlighting its causes, such as the sharing of injecting drug use equipment, re-used and unsterilised needles for tattooing and unscreened blood and blood products. But it's also about prevention of diseases such as liver cancer and cirrhosis, underscored with messages about treatments. Here you will also find out more about the latest developments in the fight against hepatitis C, and issues surrounding access to treatments.

Yet while there are undoubtedly challenges ahead there are also reasons to be optimistic. There is now a cure for hepatitis C, while highly effective treatments are available for hepatitis B and there are signs that countries are at last beginning to recognise the threat that hepatitis presents. At the 2014 World Health Assembly, 194 governments adopted a resolution to promote global action to prevent, diagnose, and treat viral hepatitis. As a result, the World Health Organisation has created a global strategy to eliminate hepatitis B and C which will be put forward for adoption during the World Health Assembly in 2016. Additionally, in September of this year, the first ever World Hepatitis Summit will take place in Glasgow — a forum aiming to address the overwhelming global burden of viral hepatitis and stress how important it is for individual countries to create their own national strategies. It would be excellent to see the UK, for instance, emerging as one of the nations leading the fight against viral hepatitis — but, right now, the picture here is regionally fragmented, with more drive in Scotland and seemingly less in England.

The bottom line is, to get this health problem under control we need full commitment from everyone. Once we have that, we can start the fight. And fight we must — because 4000 deaths a day is 4000 too many.