GoBarefoot: World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries on World Hepatitis Day, 28 July 2016, to take rapid action to improve knowledge about the disease and to increase access to testing and treatment services. Today, only 1 in 20 people with viral hepatitis know they have it. And just 1 in 100 with the disease is being treated.
“The world has ignored hepatitis at its peril,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “It is time to mobilise a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generated to fight other communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.”
Against this backdrop, the World Health Organization in collaboration with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India is organizing a global event in Mumbai today to raise awareness about hepatitis among general public as well as health care providers and policy makers at the highest level.
The theme for this year’s World Hepatitis Day is ‘Know Hepatitis-Act Now’.
The event will be attended by the Union Health Minister, Union Health Secretary, senior officials of the Health Ministry, and actor Amitabh Bachchan.
Around the world 400 million people are infected with hepatitis B and C, more than 10 times the number of people are living with HIV. An estimated 1.45 million people died of the disease in 2013 – up from less than a million in 1990.
In May 2016, at the World Health Assembly, 194 governments adopted the first-ever Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis and agreed to the first-ever global targets. The strategy includes a target to treat 8 million people for hepatitis B or C by 2020. The longer term aim is to reduce new viral hepatitis infections by 90% and to reduce the number of deaths due to viral hepatitis by 65% by 2030 from 2016 figures.
The strategy is ambitious, but the tools to achieve the targets are already in hand. An effective vaccine and treatment for hepatitis B exists. However, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The introduction of oral medicines, called direct-acting antivirals, has made it possible to potentially cure more than 90% of patients within 2–3 months.
“We need to act now to stop people from dying needlessly from hepatitis,” says Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO’s Director of the HIV/AIDS Department and Global Hepatitis Programme. “This requires a rapid acceleration of access to services and medicines for all people in need.”
To prevent hepatitis, blood safety strategies including quality-assured screening of all donated blood and blood components used for transfusion can help prevent transmission of hepatitis B and C. Safe injection practices, eliminating unnecessary and unsafe injections can be effective strategies to protect against transmission. Harm reduction services for people who inject drugs are critical to reduce hepatitis in this population. Safer sex practices, including minimizing the number of partners, and using barrier protective measures (condoms) also protect against transmission.