Saturday, July 27, 2013

World Hepatitis Day: World Health Organisation urges action on Hepatitis treatment

WHO urges action on hepatitis threat - The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged governments to act against the five hepatitis viruses that can cause severe liver infections and lead to 1.4 million deaths every year, ahead of the 2013 World Hepatitis Day to  be observed globally 28 July.

According to WHO, some of these hepatitis viruses, most notably types B and C, can also lead to chronic and debilitating illnesses such as liver cancer and cirrhosis, in addition to loss of income and high medical expenses for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Viral hepatitis is referred to as a ‘silent epidemic’ because most persons do not realise that they are infected and, over decades, slowly progress to liver disease. 

The fact that many hepatitis B and C infections are silent, causing no symptoms until there is severe damage to the liver, points to the urgent need for universal access to immunization, screening, diagnosis and antiviral therapy. Hepatitis is complex because of the different types of viruses.

Hepatitis A and E are food- and water-borne infections which cause millions of cases of acute illness every year, sometimes with several months needed for a person to fully recovery.

Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread by infected body fluids including blood, by sexual contact, mother-to-child transmission during birth, or by contaminated medical equipment. 

Hepatitis B and C have a greater health burden in terms of death because they can cause life-long infection (called chronic infection), which can lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer. In fact, chronic hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.

WHO-approved vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A and B, while screening of blood donors, assuring clean needle and syringes, and condom use can prevent blood-borne and sexual transmission.

Hepatitis B can be prevented by reaching every child with immunization programmes that include hepatitis B vaccine, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. 

Hepatitis A and E can be prevented by avoiding contaminated food and water; in addition, there is an effective WHO approved vaccine for hepatitis A.

Hepatitis medicines are now included in the WHO Essential Medicines List, which member states are encouraged to adopt. Essential medicines are selected based on disease prevalence, safety, efficacy, and comparative cost-effectiveness.

Countries can use the WHO Model List as a guide for the development of their own national list.
Meanwhile, ahead of the 2013 World Hepatitis Day, the WHO is releasing its first-ever country hepatitis survey, covering 126 countries.

The WHO Global policy report on the prevention and control of viral hepatitis in WHO member states identifies successes as well as gaps at country level in the implementation of four priority areas. 

The priority areas are raising awareness, evidence-based data for action, prevention of transmission, and screening, care and treatment.

The findings show that 37% of the countries have national strategies for viral hepatitis, and more work is needed in treating hepatitis. 

It also highlights that while most of the countries (82%) have established hepatitis surveillance programmes, only half of them include the monitoring of chronic hepatitis B and C, which are responsible for most severe illnesses and deaths.

The challenges posed by hepatitis were formally acknowledged by the World Health Assembly in 2010 when it adopted its first resolution on viral hepatitis, and called for a comprehensive approach to prevention and control.


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