Globally, 325 million people are living with hepatitis, a viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver. It’s a global health crisis that many people don’t know about – including the people living with the disease. Almost 290 million people living with hepatitis B or C are unaware that they are infected. In other words, about 9 out of 10 people living with a form of this disease are undiagnosed. 1.34 million people died from hepatitis in 2015, and the number of deaths is expected to increase.
The stakes are especially high in Africa. Over 60 million people on the continent are infected by hepatitis B, with over 10% of the population having the disease in some nations. For example, 12.2% of Nigeria’s population is infected with hepatitis B. Challenges in tackling this issue include lack of information within communities, lack of available resources, and the cost of testing and treating.
For World Hepatitis Day, the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) is launching a campaign called “Find the Missing Millions.” Through awareness and advocacy, WHA hopes to tackle barriers that keep people from getting diagnosed.
Luckily, a new test will make it much easier to diagnose hepatitis B across Africa. With two blood tests, doctors can identify people who need immediate treatment for the disease. This test needs less lab equipment than older methods, making it much more accessible. It also comes at a much lower cost – each test is $20, compared to $100-$500 for previous testing methods.
The scientists researching this method hope to develop it into an even simpler process. It is possible that this test could only need a finger prick to get a diagnosis. This would lead to quicker results and enable thousands of people to get tested.
Access to healthcare services makes an immeasurable difference in the lives of people around the world. With innovations like this one, the missing millions are that much closer to being found.