World Hepatitis Day: Our Commitment to Viral Hepatitis Elimination (Guest blog)
A guest blog by Mike Elliott, Vice President, Medical Affairs, Europe, Gilead
COVID-19 has touched almost every aspect of our lives and propelled the world into unchartered territory – a “new normal”. The focus on infectious diseases, and the enormous impact they can have on our lives, has never been greater. Gilead is deploying our extensive antiviral expertise to play a significant role in finding a treatment for COVID-19; however, while we must address this urgent humanitarian need, it is critical we continue our efforts in other disease areas where we have made huge strides.
For hepatitis C (HCV), the first all-oral cure was approved by the European Medicines Agency in 2013 and in 2016 the World Health Organization set a target to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. Yet, in Europe 14 million people continue to live with HCV, with as many as 80% remaining undiagnosed and 1.75 million new infections globally each year. Many of these people living with HCV are some of the most vulnerable in society and have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
This World Hepatitis Day, Gilead continues to support the World Hepatitis Alliance’s “Find the Missing Millions” advocacy campaign. It’s critical we find innovative routes to reach the “missing millions” who have been further deprioritized during COVID-19. As we recover from the pandemic it will more important than ever to focus on how we can accelerate the delivery of testing and care in ways that better meet the needs of patients.
In this “new normal”, we have to keep elimination on track and to help bring these communities into care. A new report launched today, ‘Winning the Race to Eliminate Hepatitis C’,  assessed the status of HCV elimination in 29 countries. 10 countries are on track to achieve HCV elimination by 2030, with work continuing in the remaining 19. Moving forward, we need to look at established “good practice”, to help countries accelerate the pace towards elimination.
Iceland is one of those countries identified as being on track and is likely to be the first country globally to achieve HCV elimination. The TraP Hep C program in Iceland was a collaborative initiative between Gilead and the Icelandic Ministry of Health to eliminate HCV as a major health threat. At the start of the project, 800 people were estimated to be living with the virus in Iceland. Just three years later (April 2019) around 80% have been cured6, with the latest data expected soon.
Iceland is just one program Gilead supports, alongside major multi-year projects in Georgia, Mongolia and our HepConnect program in the U.S. Additionally, through our LEGA-C program, we support more than 110 HCV elimination projects worldwide. COMMIT, our community grants program launched in 2019, already funds 19 projects in 12 countries.
Looking forward, it is critical we learn from these programs and where possible optimize and scale successful initiatives. It is also possible that the public health response to COVID-19 could provide new opportunities, for example the decentralization of care with telemedicine or the integration of HCV and other blood borne virus screening with COVID-19 antibody testing. In addition, the role of industry is broadening to become a long-term partner in public health for healthcare systems as well as providing critically important medicines. We have already seen the benefits of elimination support programs, but we must do more to better align our efforts and adapt to COVID-19 to move forward together. For HCV elimination, with 10 years to go, we don’t have a moment to lose.
 World Health Organization. Global health sector strategy on viral hepatitis 2016-2021.2016. [Online] Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/246177/WHO-HIV-2016.06-eng.pdf;jsessionid=3BBEC7ECC2C58A0FFA7D3AFD420ECDE4?sequence=1 [Last accessed July 2020]
 World Health Organization. Global Hepatitis Report, 2017. [Online] Available at at:http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/255016/1/9789241565455-eng.pdf?ua=1 [Last accessed July 2020]
 World Health Organization. [Online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-c. [Last accessed July 2020]
 Boston Consulting Group. Winning the Race to Eliminate Hepatitis C. June 2020. [Online] Available at: https://web-assets.bcg.com/93/66/18060f3d45de834d7c62a8121454/winning-the-race-to-eliminate-hepatitis-c.pdf [Last accessed July 2020]
 Rockstroh J. Summary from EASL 2018 for Hepatitis C (HCV). HCV in 2018: Success stories and remaining challenges? [Online] Available at: http://www.natap.org/2018/EASL/EASL_93.htm (Last accessed July 2019)
6 Poster presented in EASL 2019: Olafsson et al EASL Annual Conference 2019, Vienna, Poster THU412