WHO calls for united effort to tackle viral hepatitis

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on countries to work together to wipe out viral hepatitis with new global statistics showing 1.34 million people died from the disease in 2015.

The WHO Global hepatitis report, 2017 revealed that an estimated 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. The report highlighted that a large majority of these people lack access to life-saving testing and treatment.

It warned, as a result, millions of people are at risk of a slow progression to chronic liver disease, cancer, and death.

In particular, the data indicated that the WHO African Region and WHO Western Pacific Region shared the greatest burden for HBV with 6.2 per cent and 6.1 per cent suffering from the condition respectively.

WHO outlined that there is currently no vaccine against HCV, and access to treatment for HBV and HCV is still low.

The report notes that just nine per cent of all HBV infections and 20 per cent of all HCV infections were diagnosed in 2015. An even smaller fraction – eight per cent of those diagnosed with HBV infection (1.7 million people) were on treatment, and only seven per cent of those diagnosed with HCV infection (1.1 million people) had started curative treatment during that year.

WHO has published the Global hepatitis report, 2017 in a bid to provide a starting point for hepatitis elimination by indicating baseline statistics on HBV and HCV infections, including mortality, and coverage levels of key interventions.

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General said: ”Viral hepatitis is now recognised as a major public health challenge that requires an urgent response. Vaccines and medicines to tackle hepatitis exist, and WHO is committed to helping ensure these tools reach all those who need them."

Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, director of WHO's Department of HIV and the Global Hepatitis Programme, added: “We are still at an early stage of the viral hepatitis response, but the way forward looks promising. More countries are making hepatitis services available for people in need – a diagnostic test costs less than US$ 1 and the cure for hepatitis C can be below US$ 200. But the data clearly highlight the urgency with which we must address the remaining gaps in testing and treatment."

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