Scale up efforts against hepatitis: WHO tells SE Asian nations

On the occasion of World Hepatitis Day- on 28th July, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called upon nations to scale up efforts to arrest the spread of the infection

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New Delhi: Hepatitis is preventable and treatable but continues to be an acute public health challenge globally and in countries of WHO South-East Asia Region. Viral hepatitis kills approximately 350 000 people every year in the Region. It is responsible for more deaths than HIV and malaria together, and is second only to tuberculosis as a major cause of death among communicable diseases. Globally, and in the Region the number of deaths due to viral hepatitis is increasing. There is need for immediate and urgent action to arrest the spread of hepatitis.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia in her statement mentioned, “In the South-East Asia Region, viral hepatitis is driving rates of liver cancer and cirrhosis, and is causing premature death and disease with over 100 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C. These numbers are unacceptable as there is an effective vaccine and treatment for hepatitis B, and over 90% of people with hepatitis C can be cured with treatment.”

WHO will be releasing its first hepatitis testing guidelines this year which provides guidance on hepatitis testing, treatment and care.

One of the main challenges to addressing hepatitis is that 95% of people with chronic hepatitis do not know they are infected and less than 1% have access to treatment. To address these issues, people and countries need to be better equipped and enabled to “know hepatitis” and “act now” –the theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day.

One of the main reasons for complication due to hepatitis B is mother-to-child transmission, which can be prevented by administering the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth, followed by two to three doses in the first six months of life.

Safe injections, blood transfusions and other healthcare procedures can further prevent the spread of hepatitis B and C among health care consumers, while promoting hygienic and clean food and water can reduce the risk of hepatitis A and E infection.

Increasing access to hepatitis testing is key to scaling up hepatitis treatment and care. WHO is releasing its first hepatitis testing guidelines this year which provides guidance on who should be tested, and recommends simple testing strategies to help scale up hepatitis testing, treatment and care.

Adequate use of the existing powerful tools and new guidelines can help prevent and treat hepatitis. National strategies and action plans should optimally utilize these tools and step up efforts at all levels to address the growing threat of hepatitis.

At the World Health Assembly this year, WHO adopted the Global Health Sector Strategy for Hepatitis that calls for eliminating hepatitis by 2030. The SDG 3.3 includes specific mention of the need to strengthen efforts to combat hepatitis. The World Hepatitis Day is an opportunity to review and reiterate our commitment and resolve to eliminate hepatitis and save lives.