Global fund for hepatitis prepares for rollout

An Egyptian doctor tests for hepatitis C. Photo by: REUTERS / Mohamed Abd El Ghany

MANILA — The Fund for Elimination of Viral Hepatitis, or EndHep2030, the world’s only corpus dedicated to the elimination of viral hepatitis is expected to open soon.

Starting April, the fund will accept proposals from charitable organizations working to raise awareness on and improve delivery systems for the screening and treatment of viral hepatitis.

“[The goal is to] help donors, potential donors, to really understand why hepatitis is a global public health challenge.”

— Wangsheng Li, co-chair of the oversight committee, EndHep2030

The fund plans to announce the first tranche of grants around World Hepatitis Day on July 28, said Wangsheng Li, co-chair of the fund’s oversight committee and president of the ZeShan Foundation, which is among the fund’s founding donors. Established in 2004, the ZeShan Foundation is a privately-funded family foundation based in Hong Kong which provides grants both domestically and abroad with a focus on health, education, post-disaster community rehabilitation, and social development. The foundation has been supporting work on hepatitis, particularly hepatitis B infection in China, since 2006.

The announcement comes more than a year after the fund’s launch in November 2017 at the World Hepatitis Summit in São Paulo, Brazil. While there are a host of global health issues, Li said the ZeShan Foundation has chosen to focus its attention on hepatitis elimination after learning of the scale of the problem and the unavailability of funding to address it.

Viral hepatitis kills 1.34 million people globally every year, more than tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS, according to a 2017 study. This includes deaths from cirrhosis and liver cancer due to hepatitis B and C infections. But international funding to help address the problem has been scant, with a number of nonprofit organizations working to raise awareness about the issue relying mostly on private donations.

“The way we approach what we would like our philanthropic dollars [to support] is we're looking at where the needs are [and] where the gaps are,” Li told Devex at the recently concluded one-day public health forum in Manila, the Philippines, jointly organized by the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver and the Coalition for the Eradication of Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific.

Apart from filling the gap in funding for hepatitis, Li said helping stop the transmission of infection will help prevent deaths, including from liver cancer and cirrhosis.

“We think we could be more effective [by channeling our resources to hepatitis elimination]. We could play a more catalytic role in terms of solving [this] global health challenge,” he said.

A catalytic fund

To date, a few United States-based philanthropic foundations have donated to EndHep2030, including the John C. Martin Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Li didn’t disclose how much resources the fund has raised to date, but the ZeShan Foundation has committed $5 million for the first round of grants.

“Because it’s a short period [since launch], we don’t think we can make a lot of grants right away. We want to make sure the quality of the programs are really top notch,” he said.

The fund aims to support government capacity building and advocacy. The goal is to help nations develop their national action plans for viral hepatitis elimination, and find ways to improve health care delivery systems that include increasing hepatitis B vaccine coverage of newborns at birth and raising the number of people screened and treated for hepatitis.

While there are no current plans to directly provide funds to governments, Li said grantees need to have a very strong collaboration or partnership with governments.

But the fund has another function: to build donor education.

“[The goal is to] help donors, potential donors, to really understand why hepatitis is a global public health challenge. Why actually it's worth all the effort to work towards this common goal of elimination,” Li said. “It's not a good thing to [have only one fund] in this very important area for work. It's a process we're working on to get more donors, philanthropists on board.”

The fund aims to raise $1 billion during its lifespan, and hire professional staff to run and oversee its operations. Li said there are plans to set up offices in Hong Kong, and San Francisco in the United States. And hopefully, in two years, they’d be able to make available at least $100 million annually, he said.

Unlike most global funds operating in the development sector, however, EndHep2030 will have a limited run. It is projected to “sunset” by 2035, Li said.

“Because if we say we want to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030, ... by then our job should be done,” he explained.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.