WHO urges governments to act on hepatitis threat
Geneva, July 24, 2013
The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging governments to act against the five hepatitis viruses that can cause severe liver infections and lead to 1.4 million deaths every year, as part of World Hepatitis Day which falls on July 28.
Some of these hepatitis viruses, most notably types B and C, can also lead to chronic and debilitating illnesses such as liver cancer and cirrhosis, in addition to loss of income and high medical expenses for millions of people worldwide, said a statement.
Viral hepatitis is referred to as a ‘silent epidemic’ because most persons do not realise that they are infected and, over decades, slowly progress to liver disease. Many countries are now realising the magnitude of the disease burden and devising ways to address it.
“The fact that many hepatitis B and C infections are silent, causing no symptoms until there is severe damage to the liver, points to the urgent need for universal access to immunisation, screening, diagnosis and antiviral therapy,” said Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director general for Health Security and the Environment.
This year, in the run up to World Hepatitis Day, the organisation is releasing its first-ever country hepatitis survey, covering 126 countries.
The WHO Global policy report on the prevention and control of viral hepatitis in WHO member states identifies successes as well as gaps at country level in the implementation of four priority areas, which are raising awareness, evidence-based data for action, prevention of transmission, and screening, care and treatment.
The findings show that 37 per cent of the countries have national strategies for viral hepatitis, and more work is needed in treating hepatitis. It also highlights that while 82 per cent of the countries have established hepatitis surveillance programmes, only half of them include the monitoring of chronic hepatitis B and C.
“Many of the measures needed to prevent the spread of viral hepatitis disease can be put in place right now and, and doing so will offset the heavy economic costs of treating and hospitalising patients in future,” said Dr Sylvie Briand, director, Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases at WHO.
“The findings underline the important work that is being done by governments to halt hepatitis through the implementation of WHO recommended policies and actions.”
The challenges posed by hepatitis were formally acknowledged by the World Health Assembly in 2010 when, it adopted its first resolution on viral hepatitis, and called for a comprehensive approach to prevention and control. WHO has been collaborating closely with countries and partners to build a strong global response.
The new report notes, 38 per cent of countries observe World Hepatitis Day (an annual event that began in 2010) with even more countries expected to mark the day this year.
WHO launched the Global Hepatitis Network in June, with an aim to support countries with planning and implementation of viral hepatitis plans and programmes.
The organisation is currently developing new hepatitis C screening, care and treatment guidelines, which will provide recommendations on seven key areas such as testing approaches; behavioural interventions (alcohol reduction); non-invasive assessment of liver fibrosis; and the selection of hepatitis C drug combinations. - TradeArabia News Service