Despite global efforts that led to significant successes in recent years, the World Health Organization said more needs to be done to prevent and control viral hepatitis — a group of infectious diseases that cause liver inflammation known as Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
On July 28, WHO and partners will mark World Hepatitis Day to increase the awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases that it causes.
The international health organization identified as a major challenge in the fight against the disease the lack of adequate knowledge and awareness among the general population as well as health professionals.
In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control estimates the number of chronic cases of viral hepatitis at 2.7 million to 3.9 million. Worldwide, the infection affects hundreds of millions of people, causing acute and chronic liver disease and killing close to 1.4 million every year.
According to WHO, hepatitis remains largely ignored or unknown. It said millions of chronically infected persons are “unaware of their situation and its consequences, and they risk transmitting the disease to their families and partners.” These people do not have timely access to testing, care and effective treatment services to delay disease progression and prevent morbidity, mortality or disability.
In the observance of World Hepatitis Day, world health officials are calling for adequate surveillance systems that would enable governments to take evidence-based policy decisions.
WHO also recommends HBV vaccination at birth to prevent maternal-child transmission, noting that only 27 percent of newborns globally received this vaccine. The vaccine was introduced nationwide in 179 countries by end-2010 but coverage (75 percent) remains below the 90 percent global target.
In 2000, WHO said contaminated injections caused an estimated 21 million HBV infections, two million HCV infections and 260,000 HIV infections, accounting for 32 percent, 40 percent, and 5 percent new infections, respectively.
“Injection overuse and unsafe practices account for a substantial burden of death and disability worldwide,” it added.
The organization and its partners are urging policymakers, health workers and the public to “Think Again” about this silent killer.
Specifically, the “Think Again” campaign seeks to strengthen prevention, screening, and control of viral hepatitis and its related disease; increase hepatitis B vaccine coverage and integration of the vaccine into national immunization programs; and coordinate a global response to viral hepatitis.