Vanesa enjoys swimming for hours in the rivers and lakes near her home in Patagonia, Argentina. In her vegetable garden, she harvests her own food and makes the most of her fruit trees by making homemade sweets during a good portion of the year. Today, nature is an unconditional ally. The serenity of life in El Bolsón, the city where she lives, makes it possible to enjoy the little things. "Here, we get to know each other better, and people notice when you change something. My neighbors and friends saw that I was different," says Vanesa Ruiz. She recalls the results of the new hepatitis C treatment she tried in 2015, which cured her of the disease.
"Very quickly, a week after beginning the treatment, I felt better, I had a different attitude, and my skin wasn't yellow anymore. It was a major change. And when the results of the study showed that I had no viral load anymore (that is, the virus was no longer in my blood), I was overjoyed. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. A dream come true," says Vanesa, who had been infected 25 years ago, when she was 20.Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver commonly caused by viral hepatitis. There are five types of the virus (A, B, C, D, and E), which can cause acute and chronic infections. Liver inflammation can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death.
At that time, just as she was beginning to emerge from adolescence, Vanesa also found out that she had HIV. She began a course of treatments, with mixed results, until finally she began her current treatment for HIV, which she manages without problems. The situation became more complicated when she was diagnosed with cirrhosis, requiring her to be placed on the liver transplant waiting list. "Although I've been cured of hepatitis C, I still need a liver transplant, but the situation is much less serious. I have a lot more energy, I am excited to do things, and the improvements I've made have inspired my friends with hepatitis C to seek treatment," she says.
"Before," she explains, "the treatments left you bedridden and people were scared, but when they saw how I changed, they decided to do it too. My sister did, and she was cured. Then, another friend of mine sought treatment and was also cured, and two of my friends are being treated right now in El Bolsón." That is how people close to Vanesa also started the newly available treatments, which have the potential to cure more than 90% of people infected with hepatitis C and reduce the risk of death from liver cancer or cirrhosis. However, Argentina is one of only a few countries that fund these treatments.
Retired from her career as a hairdresser in Buenos Aires, Vanesa, now 45, enjoys the mountainous landscape of El Bolsón, which has been her home for the past five years. Surrounded by family and friends, she feels her body no longer needs to "work so hard; it is stronger now."
Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with infected blood or contaminated blood products via transfusions or organ transplants, and through invasive procedures (such as injections and tattoos with reused needles). Hepatitis C can also be transmitted sexually, although it is much less common. An estimated 7.2 million people live with chronic hepatitis C in the Americas. Only 25% of them have been diagnosed, and some 300 thousand receive treatment. Nearly 90% of people infected with hepatitis C can be cured if they receive the appropriate treatment.
Currently, the global objective is to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030. Vanesa ? like so many others ? allows us to see the progress made towards this goal.