Today (26 July), the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has joined forces with the London Joint Working Group on Hepatitis C, King’s College Hospital, The Hepatitis C Trust, and the Manna Centre, to draw attention to World Hepatitis Day (28 July) and the good news that hepatitis C – once seen as a ‘silent killer’ – can now be cured with tablet treatments.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, which primarily affects the liver. People can live with hepatitis C for decades without symptoms but untreated cases can cause fatal cirrhosis and liver cancer. Public Health England estimate there are 14,200 people living with hepatitis C in London and 113,000 people with the virus in England, around half of whom are undiagnosed. NHS England has set an ambition to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat in England by 2025, ahead of the World Health Organisation global goal of 2030.
As hepatitis C is transmitted blood to blood, risk factors include sharing injecting equipment, having a tattoo or piercing in an unregistered premises, having a blood transfusion or blood products before 1991 when screening for hepatitis C was introduced, or having medical procedures in a high prevalence country or region (e.g. Egypt, eastern Europe and south Asia).
Sadiq chose to visit the hepatitis C outreach testing van, run by King’s College Hospital and The Hepatitis C Trust, as well as the Manna Centre in London Bridge, as hepatitis C is highly prevalent amongst homeless people. This group of people face additional barriers to getting tested and treated due to a lack of permanent address and difficulty accessing secondary care services.
Sadiq said: “If left untreated, the hepatitis C virus can be extremely damaging but, once diagnosed, it can be managed quickly and effectively, enabling patients to make a full recovery.
“This is why I’m urging all Londoners in high-risk groups or those who might be experiencing symptoms of hepatitis C to get tested.
“Every Londoner deserves access to quality healthcare and this testing van offers a way to reach some of our most vulnerable communities. Working in partnership across the capital we want to ensure nobody is left behind and to strive together to eliminate hepatitis C in London.”
Professor Geoff Dusheiko, consultant hepatologist at King’s, said: “Together with the Hepatitis C Trust and the sponsors of the programme, we are pleased to be offering localised, on-site testing and treatment to homeless people in London. Rates of liver disease due to hepatitis C are declining with the advent of new effective oral treatments but it is of vital importance that the homeless, who have a high prevalence of hepatitis C, do not fall through the net, and can be helped to navigate a path to cure.”
Angelina Bass, who volunteers with The Hepatitis C Trust to talk about her experiences of having and being treated for hepatitis C, said: “I was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2005. I lived with the virus for over 12 years so know just how devastating hepatitis C is both mentally and physically. I was finally offered treatment in 2016 when I was given a three-month course of medication. In 2017 I was told I was hepatitis C negative which was such a relief. It felt amazing.
"I started volunteering for The Hepatitis C Trust in 2017 because I felt like I'd been given a second chance and I wanted to give back. My role involves accompanying clients to hospital and giving support around hepatitis C and treatment. I also go to hostels and detox centres to share my own experience of addiction, homelessness, hepatitis C and everything that comes with it. I feel proud to be involved in such a brilliant cause, and hopefully one day we can eliminate hepatitis C."
Dr Emily Finch, co-chair of the London Joint Working Group on Substance Use and Hepatitis C and Clinical Director, Southwark Central Acute and Addictions Directorate said: “We are delighted that the Mayor is helping to raise awareness of hepatitis C which is very much a disease of deprivation. Hepatitis C can be devastating but we now have the tools to find and treat everyone infected. It is great that the Mayor is helping to get the important ‘get tested’ message out there.”
Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “With highly effective treatments available through the NHS there is no reason for anyone to be living with hepatitis C. We need to urgently find those still living with an undiagnosed infection and support them to access treatment. We are determined that we will leave no-one behind. Initiatives like our testing van will help to reach these people.”
Alison Keating, Head of Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco Team, Public Health England London said: “Hepatitis C remains an ongoing public health problem in London with significant numbers of people with the disease in our city. Transmission amongst vulnerable groups such as the homeless continues and many people remain undiagnosed and untreated, but this need not be the case. The landscape of hepatitis C treatment has changed rapidly and we’re now in an era of vastly improved treatment which could lead to its elimination. This is a very exciting prospect for London to have a future without hepatitis C.”
Bandi Mbubi, Director of the Manna Centre said: “We thank the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, for visiting our day centre and for drawing attention to an illness which overwhelmingly affects homeless people.”