B-MS Foundation awards new grants to fight hepatitis in India and China

India and China have the highest incidence of viral hepatitis worldwide

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation has announced nine new grants totalling more than US$3.5m to strengthen efforts in India and China in the fight against hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection by focusing on the most vulnerable, high risk patient populations. The multi-year grants were made through the Foundation’s Delivering Hope initiative, which has supported more than 40 projects in India and China since 2002.

These new grants align with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) strategies for reducing the incidence of HBV and HCV infection through early diagnosis and screening of high risk populations, including intravenous drug users and patients co-infected with HIV and/or tuberculosis.

Viral hepatitis is an urgent public health issue in Asia. In India and China together, it is estimated that more than 123 million people are infected with chronic hepatitis B and about 60 million with hepatitis C. Although progress has been made in introducing national policies to control the spread of HBV and HCV, community and general awareness is low. When left untreated, viral hepatitis infections result in liver failure and chronic liver disease that can create a significant burden on families and society.

Last year, Delivering Hope established two Centres of Excellence that are scaling up and replicating achievements in hepatitis awareness, prevention and treatment from past Foundation grantees. 'Delivering Hope continues to increase its focus on HBV and HCV in India and China, the two countries that have the highest incidence of viral hepatitis worldwide,' said John Damonti, president, Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.

'Working with the Foundation’s Centres of Excellence in these countries, our grantees are using successful evidence-based practices to support the WHO’s efforts at raising awareness and prevention of viral hepatitis among the most vulnerable and high risk populations, training the healthcare professionals who care for these patients and increasing vaccinations and testing, all of which continue to build healthcare capacity and support strong community models for hepatitis prevention and control,' he added.

Among the projects to receive grants from the Foundation in India is a pilot programme in Mehsana and Sabarkantha, two rural districts in the state of Gujarat that have experienced HBV outbreaks. It would expand HBV testing in public healthcare institutions, make vaccinations more widely available through a network of non-governmental organisations and hospitals, and train healthcare practitioners on injection safety and universal precautions against HBV.

The Foundation also awarded a grant to the World Hepatitis Alliance to develop a new model of patient group creation aimed at physicians who treat viral hepatitis and engage them in creating and sustaining patient support groups. These groups play a large role in advocacy efforts and health care policies and practices for a range of diseases around the world.

Delivering Hope has initiated more than six patient empowerment projects in India and China, reaching more than 6,000 patients.