325 mln people living with chronic hepatitis B or C: World Health Organization report

Hepatitis

The Middle East has the highest hepatitis "C " rates, due to lacking hygiene.

The first-ever Global Hepatitis Report by the World Health Organization (WHO) comes as a continuation of the WHO's Global Strategy on Viral Hepatitis, setting a goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

The agency presented a report on the regional spread of hepatitis "B" and "C", two types of the virus that cause almost all hepatitis deaths around the world.

A major public health challenge, viral hepatitis requires an urgent response.

The 325 million cases reported are of hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) - the main types of the five different hepatitis infections and responsible for 96 percent of deaths from the disease.

Hepatitis B is mainly transmitted in the first years of life from mother to child and is most prevalent in the Western Pacific and African regions. Hepatitis C virus is spread through direct contact with infected blood. A mere nine percent of hepatitis B sufferers have been tested and are aware of their infection.

The WHO demanded for action to fight the liver disease.

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.

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The three-day event, which is a joint initiative between WHO and the World Hepatitis Alliance, will focus on key ways to implement WHO's Viral Hepatitis Strategy, with a specific focus on how to improve surveillance data, scale up testing and treatment at a national level, and support service delivery amongst vulnerable populations.

Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, team leader, WHO Department of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals, also speaking at the briefing, underlined the impact of vaccination campaigns. "It is very important to prevent infections from the mother", she said.

As a result, millions of people are at risk of a slow progression to chronic liver disease, cancer and death, says the WHO.

Of those who knew they were infected, only 8 percent of hepatitis B infected people got treatment, and only 7 percent for hepatitis C infected people.

It is generally a mild and short-term infection that doesn't require any treatment, but it can be serious in a small number of people. Annually more than 600,000 people die of Hepatitis B complications.

The report also notes that there is now limited funding available at the global level to support national hepatitis elimination plans, leaving countries to finance most of their response through domestic sources.

Restrepo said only 50 percent of countries were delivering this vaccine.

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