The World Health Organisation has raised the alarm that viral hepatitis could kill more people than malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV combined by 2040 if the current infection rate continues.
According to WHO, hepatitis causes liver damage and cancer and kills over a million people annually. Of the 5 types of hepatitis infections, hepatitis B and C cause most of the disease and deaths.
WHO made this known in a statement it issued as the global health body joined the rest of the world to celebrate the 2023 World Hepatitis Day, themed, “One life, one liver”.
The health organisation noted that while Hepatitis C could be cured, only 21 per cent of the people living with the infection are diagnosed and only 13 per cent have received curative treatment.
Who added that only 10 per cent of people living with chronic hepatitis B are diagnosed, and only 2 per cent of those infected are receiving lifesaving medicine.
“Viral hepatitis could kill more people than malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV combined by 2040 if current infection trends continue.
“Hepatitis causes liver damage and cancer and kills over a million people annually. Of the 5 types of hepatitis infections, hepatitis B and C cause most of the disease and deaths. Hepatitis C can be cured; however, only 21% of people living with hepatitis C infection are diagnosed and only 13% have received curative treatment.
“Just 10 per cent of people living with chronic hepatitis B are diagnosed, and only 2per cent of those infected are receiving the lifesaving medicine.”
WHO emphasised the importance of protecting the liver against hepatitis for living a long, healthy life, saying, “Good liver health also benefits other vital organs – including the heart, b, rain, and kidneys – that rely on the liver to function.”
WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that despite available preventive measures and treatment, many people are undiagnosed.
“Millions of people are living with undiagnosed and untreated hepatitis worldwide, even though we have better tools than ever to prevent, diagnose and treat it.
“WHO remains committed to supporting countries to expand the use of those tools, including increasingly cost-effective curative medication, to save lives and end hepatitis,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
To combat viral hepatitis, WHo called for global communities to ensure access to treatment for all pregnant women and vaccines for babies at birth.
“To reduce new infections and deaths from hepatitis B and C, countries must: ensure access to treatment for all pregnant women living with hepatitis B, provide hepatitis B vaccines for their babies at birth, diagnose 90% of people living with hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C, and provide treatment to 80% of all people diagnosed with hepatitis.
“They must also act to ensure optimal blood transfusion, safe injections, and harm reduction.
“The reduction of hepatitis B infections in children through vaccination is a key intervention to limit viral hepatitis infections overall. The target for hepatitis B incidence is the only Sustainable Development Goal health target that was met in 2020 and is on track for 2030.
“However, many countries in Africa do not have access to the birth dose hepatitis B vaccines. Gavi’s recent restart of its Vaccine Investment Strategy 2018 – which includes the birth dose hepatitis B vaccine – will jumpstart newborn vaccination programs in West and Central Africa, where mother-to-child hepatitis B transmission rates remain very high.
“To help eliminate mother-to-child transmission, WHO recommends that all pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B during their pregnancy. If positive, they should receive treatment and vaccines should be provided to their newborns.
However, a new WHO report shows that of the 64 countries with a policy, only 32 countries reported implementing activities to screen for and manage hepatitis B in antenatal clinics.
“For people who want to maintain liver health, WHO recommends hepatitis testing, treatment if diagnosed, and vaccination against hepatitis B.
Reducing alcohol consumption, achieving a healthy weight, and managing diabetes or hypertension also benefit liver health,” WHO stated.