New Delhi: WHO today said viral hepatitis kills more than three lakh people every year in South East Asian region, including India, even as it asserted that it will release the first hepatitis testing guidelines this year to scale up the testing and treatment of the disease.
Noting that the disease continues to be an acute public health challenge worldwide, the global health body said viral hepatitis kills approximately 3,50,000 people every year in South East Asian region.
“It is responsible for more deaths than HIV and malaria together, and is second only to tuberculosis as a major cause of death among communicable diseases.
“Globally, and in the region the number of deaths due to viral hepatitis are increasing. There is a need for immediate and urgent action to arrest the spread of hepatitis,” Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, said.
In the South-East Asia region, viral hepatitis is driving rates of liver cancer and cirrhosis and is causing premature death and disease with over 100 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
These numbers are unacceptable as there is an effective vaccine and treatment for hepatitis B, and over 90 per cent of people with hepatitis C can be cured with treatment, she said on the eve of World Hepatitis Day.
“Increasing access to hepatitis testing is key to scaling up hepatitis treatment and care. WHO is releasing its first hepatitis testing guidelines this year which provides guidance on who should be tested, and recommends simple testing strategies to help scale up hepatitis testing, treatment and care,” she said.
Noting that one of the main challenges to addressing hepatitis is that 95 per cent of people with chronic hepatitis do not know they are infected and less than 1 per cent have access to treatment.
To address these issues, people and countries need to be better equipped and enabled to “know hepatitis” and “act now”- the theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day, she said.
“One of the main reasons for complication due to Hepatitis B is mother-to-child transmission, which can be prevented by administering the Hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth, followed by two to three doses in the first six months of life,” Singh said.
She said safe injections, blood transfusions and other
healthcare procedures can further prevent the spread of hepatitis B and C, while promoting hygienic and clean food and water can reduce the risk of hepatitis A and E infection.
“Adequate use of the existing powerful tools and new guidelines can help prevent and treat hepatitis. National strategies and action plans should optimally utilise these tools and step up efforts at all levels to address the growing threat of hepatitis,” Singh said.
At the World Health Assembly this year, WHO adopted the Global Health Sector Strategy for Hepatitis that calls for eliminating the disease by 2030.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 3.3 includes specific mention of the need to strengthen efforts to combat hepatitis.
“The World Hepatitis Day is an opportunity to review and reiterate our commitment and resolve to eliminate hepatitis and save lives,” she said.
WHO’s South-East Asia region comprises of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.