By Humberto Silva, Chair of the Hepatitis Eradication Rotarian Action Group and member of Rotary Club of São Paulo-Jardim das Bandeiras in Brazil
According to the World Health Organization, viral hepatitis is the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. Together, Hepatitis B and C kills close to 1.4 million people every year. Around the world, 400 million people living with chronic Hepatitis B and C, the most serious forms of viral hepatitis, don’t know they are infected. Untreated cases cause serious damage to the liver and result in death.
I was once one of those 400 million people in good health and without a single symptom while my liver was being taken by cirrhosis. In 2010, before a trip to the South Africa FIFA World Cup, I visited the doctor to ensure my vaccines were up-to-date. Apart from the vaccines, the doctor also tested for Hepatitis B and C and there it was: hepatitis C.
I received treatment and a second chance at life. I knew I had to do something to help the millions of other people who were still suffering. I started to research the disease and found that 3 million in my country of Brazil shared my same problem. They showed no signs of a damaged liver, but were living with the terrible disease. I became president of the Brazilian Association of People with Hepatitis (ABPH) which established five free clinics in Brazil with a the sixth one soon opening in Mexico focused on prevention and treatment.
Using point of care blood testing, we started offering screenings all over the country. We performed half a million tests and identified 5,000 people like me living with the disease with no symptoms of infection. We helped those testing positive for hepatitis connect with treatment options.
My Rotarian friends accepting my invitation to join the mission. We engaged Rotary clubs throughout Brazil, and have now spread to all of Latin America. Over 1,000 clubs are working with us, performing low-cost and convenient tests to detect the disease. Lives are being saved and each infected person now has a chance to get treatment and be cured. Today, treatment is easy and effective in almost 100% of cases. The biggest challenge is finding those who are infected with the disease.
The Hepatitis Eradication Rotarian Action Group was formed to help clubs and districts with hepatitis screening and testing campaigns. Join our group and volunteer to help us form a committee in your country to conduct testing. The group is open to Rotary members, their families, program participants, and alumni with expertise or a passion for a particular service area.
Contact me for more information and to join our efforts!