World Health Organization urges action over growing hepatitis epidemic

Faith Castro
April 21, 2017

Viral hepatitis is believed to have killed 1.34 million people in 2015, an amount similar to that of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

The report shows that 325 million people live with viral hepatitis or approximately 4.4 percent of the world's population.

The WHO Global Hepatitis Report 2017 released today gives 2015 global and regional estimates on viral hepatitis B and C, which are responsible for 96 percent of all hepatitis mortality, a toll that reached 1.34 million deaths in 2015.

Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said: 'Viral hepatitis is now a major public health challenge that requires an urgent response'.

As a result, millions of people are at risk of a slow progression to chronic liver disease, cancer and death, says the WHO. As the report explains, the dramatic drop occurred primarily because of tests that measured HCV's genetic material, RNA, in people.

Hepatitis D: It only affects people who are already infected with hepatitis B, as it needs the hepatitis B virus to be able to survive in the body.

Around 1.75 million people were newly infected with HCV in 2015, bringing the global total to 71 million, figures suggests.

FILE - A Hepatitis-B patient Bharat Prajapati, 21, receives medical treatment at an isolation ward of the Civil hospital in Ahmadabad, India.

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"That is great and as I mentioned because of this, 85 percent of the infants worldwide are protected with three doses of hepatitis B vaccine".

The major cause for the majority of the 1.75 million new hepatitis C infections are due to the use of healthcare procedures and injectable drugs that are unsafe.

This is "quite far from the 2030 target", which is 90 percent people being aware of their infection, and of those aware, 80 percent getting treatment, he said.

The report has also shown that that despite challenges, some countries have made strides in scaling-up hepatitis services. WHO noted HBV and HCV epidemics in regions and "hotspots" across the world, and it said that treatment access is low. "Sofosbuvir, daclatasvir and the sofosbuvir/ledipasvir combination, which are part of the preferred regimens in the WHO guidelines, are included in the 19th WHO model list of essential medicines and in the WHO prequalification programme". Annually more than 600,000 people die of Hepatitis B complications.

While using clean needles and syringes will prevent transmission of the disease, Gottfried Hirnschall said there is a highly effective drug that can cure hepatitis C within a relatively short time. "They are still very high in many countries, particularly in high-income countries", he said.

Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, from the World Health Organization, said: "We are still at an early stage of the viral hepatitis response, but the way forward looks promising".

"But it is certainly so that in higher and upper middle- income countries prices are still a barrier", he said.

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