By Prudence Arobani
New data published by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that a vast majority of the estimated 325 million people living with chronic hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus infection lack access to life-saving testing and treatment.
WHO, in the new report, said the lack of access to testing and treatment for hepatitis placed the people at a great risk of chronic liver disease, cancer, and even death.
According to WHO’s 2017 Global Hepatitis Report, just nine per cent of all hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections were diagnosed in 2015.
An even smaller fraction – merely eight per cent and seven per cent – of those diagnosed with HBV and HCV, respectively, started curative treatment during that year.
Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, in a report announcing the findings, said: “Viral hepatitis is now recognized as a major public health challenge that requires an urgent response.
“Vaccines and medicines to tackle hepatitis exist, and we are committed to helping ensure these tools reach all those who need them”.
The report also revealed that increased coverage of HBV vaccinations among children had contributed substantially to preventing deaths from that virus.
Globally, 84 per cent of children born in 2015 received the three recommended doses of HBV vaccine, the report said.
However, an estimated 257 million people, mostly adults born before the introduction of the HBV vaccine, were living with chronic HBV infection in 2015, it added.
The UN health agency also said that there were currently no vaccine against HCV, and access to treatment for both HBV and HCV was low.
According to Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of WHO’s Department of HIV and the Global Hepatitis Programme, Hepatitis B requires long-term treatment while Hepatitis C can be cured.
“HBV infection requires lifelong treatment, and Hepatitis C can be cured within a relatively short time using the correct medicines, making the need for testing and treatment all the more important.
“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 one dollar and the cure for HCV can be below 200 dollars,” Hirnschall said.
The report said Western Pacific and African regions bore greatest burdens of hepatitis while findings had also revealed that Hepatitis B levels varied across the planet.
WHO said Western Pacific Region (115 million people) and its African Region (60 million people) have the highest number of such patients.
“WHO’s Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis aims to test 90 per cent and treat 80 per cent of people with HBV and HCV by 2030,” the UN agency said.