Neil Gupta is an instructor in internal medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a clinical director for the nonprofit organization Partners in Health. Paul Farmer is the Kolokotrones university professor at Harvard University, an infectious-disease physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and co-founder of Partners in Health.
Three years ago, we wrote about the wide gap in access to hepatitis C treatment, hoping that mistakes made in the world’s response to AIDS would not be repeated in another epidemic of a lethal, blood-borne disease.
Our worst fears have been realized. The World Health Organization now reports that 4 out of 5 people infected with hepatitis C aren’t even aware of it. Of those who do know, fewer than 1 in 50 have received treatment. These numbers are far worse in parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of the global extreme poor live. In many places, such as Rwanda, infected patients remain on waiting lists for treatment, without which many succumb early to liver failure, cancer and other related complications.
Unfortunately, it bears repeating: This is a failure not of science but of delivery.
Hepatitis C presents the world with an epidemic of massive proportions, one that slowly and silently afflicts more than 70 million people worldwide, more than even HIV. It kills one person every 80 seconds, claiming more lives each year than Ebola, Zika and cholera combined.