SAMMAMISH, Washington – There are typically two ways to destroy a liver: hepatitis and alcohol. While alcohol is easily avoidable, for the 20 countries and 660 million people in Latin America, hepatitis is a looming threat. Hepatitis affects over 10 million people in the Americas. However, many do not know they are carriers. Only about 1 in 5 people with hepatitis B know they are positive — and even worse only 3% can receive treatment. The hepatitis situation in Latin America is dire, killing 100,000 annually.
In response, the World Health Organization has pledged to end hepatitis globally by 2030. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to ending hepatitis in Latin America, from diagnostics and treatment to cost. Latin America’s extreme poverty rate of 13% further challenges elimination.
Breakthroughs in Costs
The most effective way to reduce hepatitis in Latin America is more testing and treating, but cost is a substantial barrier to this. In May of 2023, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the Hepatitis Fund came to an agreement that dramatically reduced the cost of hepatitis treatment. Hepatitis C medication became available for $60 for a 12-week treatment, and a staggeringly low $2.40 for a month of hepatitis B Treatment. This slash in cost — 90% from 2016 prices — dramatically increases the accessibility of treatment. As CHAI executive David Ripin said, “This announcement is a catalyst for countries already working toward elimination and will enable the treatment of many more patients.”
Efforts in Mexico and Brazil
Aside from global support to fight hepatitis in Latin America, individual countries have taken great strides in identifying and eliminating the disease. For example, Mexico created the National Hepatitis C Elimination Program in Primary Health Care (Programa Nacional de Eliminación de la Hepatitis C Atención Primara de la Salud) to promote health care quality and access. Within a year, the program quintupled the number of specialty hepatitis centers and educated 100,000 clinical practitioners on management and treatment options for hepatitis. The organization continues to fight hepatitis and is striving towards advancements in detection.
Brazil has had similar success with its National Virus Hepatitis Program, such as implementing new oral tests for hepatitis as well. From 2010 to 2021 the program treated approximately 150,000 patients and doesn’t plan on slowing down — with the lofty goal of screening 15 million people by 2024. The program continues to thrive and hopes to begin teaching screening, prevention, diagnosis and testing to non-specialist professionals. Other countries continue to make progress toward mitigating the effects of hepatitis, with similar national programs focused on screening, treatment and education.
Looking to the Future
There are clear and continuous efforts to end hepatitis in Latin America by 2030. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recently partnered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to reduce Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, and AIDS. The timeline of 2030 seems like a lofty goal to reach, but the work of global organizations and countries like Mexico and Brazil provides a light at the end of the tunnel. A light that not only stops hepatitis but other diseases and global poverty.
– Aditya Arora