Four Questions with Cary James: Raising Community Voices to Help Eliminate Viral Hepatitis

Stories@Gilead - January 05, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a goal of eliminating viral hepatitis hepatitis B and C as a major public health threat by 2030. Though some countries are on track to meet this goal, there’s still much work to be done in the next 10 years.

Cary James, CEO of the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA), recently shared  his perspective on what it will take to reach this ambitious goal and why he was inspired to help produce a podcast series focused on hepatitis, in partnership with Gilead. 

Q: Can you tell us about the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) and how it was founded?
The WHA is a global network of more than 300 organizations in nearly 100 countries that advocates for the 325 million people living with viral hepatitis worldwide.

The WHA was founded in 2007 by people living with viral hepatitis who saw a need to raise their voices to put hepatitis on the global health agenda. We continue to be led by people from around the world who have been affected by viral hepatitis. We feel this forms a large part of our identity as an organization and helps drive our passion to eliminate this disease.

Q: How do we ensure that people who are affected by viral hepatitis are tested, diagnosed and, if needed, can get access to appropriate care?
We often say that the elimination of viral hepatitis can leave no one behind. Many people affected by viral hepatitis come from communities that are disproportionately faced with challenges in accessing traditional healthcare systems and often suffer from stigma.

I believe people with these experiences and others who have a lived experience with viral hepatitis have one of the greatest tools to accelerate and drive meaningful change: their voices. Around the world, we see that when people affected by viral hepatitis advocate for themselves and others, change happens. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that nearly every country that is on track to reach the elimination goal has had a strong patient advocacy movement calling for immediate action.

Q: The Hep-cast is a unique podcast series that shines a light on the hidden stories of hepatitis elimination. Tell us more about The Hep-cast and what you hope to achieve with the series.
I think it’s crucial to provide a platform for people to share their stories to accelerate hepatitis elimination efforts.

In The Hep-cast we’re exploring how viral hepatitis elimination can be achieved at every stage of the journey from engaging communities to services, testing, treatment and prevention. We also highlight some of the most innovative elimination programs taking place around the world and look at what we can learn from these initiatives.

We assembled a group of truly inspirational individuals, from people who have been affected by viral hepatitis, to doctors, nurses and community outreach workers to share their own experiences and perspectives. I’ve been inspired by their incredible stories about why they are fighting for elimination. I believe the series will motivate others to join the movement – and mobilization of communities is critical. It will be through the actions of all individuals that we achieve the WHO’s goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030.  

Q: What can we focus on to achieve WHO’s 2030 elimination goal?  
A lot of the hard work has already been done in the sense that we can effectively test, treat and prevent viral hepatitis, but these tools need to be made available to everyone who needs them.

I believe one key impact of the pandemic is that it has brought with it a renewed emphasis on public health on a global scale – and it’s the job of the hepatitis community to ensure that hepatitis now has its place as a priority on all national and international health agendas. The human stories and experiences with viral hepatitis play a huge role in making the elimination of viral hepatitis a reality for the millions of people who are still living with this disease.

The Hep-cast is available on Spotify, Acast and Apple Podcasts.