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WHO Reports Global Burden of Viral Hepatitis Is Increasing

APR 21, 2017 | SARAH ANWAR
Testing for hepatitis is not always affordable, which results in many undiagnosed carriers. In 2015, of those who carry HBV, only 9% (22 million individuals) were diagnosed, and for HCV that number was 20% (14 million individuals). Additionally, only 1.7 million of those diagnosed with HBV had started treatment, while 1.1 million of those diagnosed with HCV had started treatment. “While the cumulative number of persons treated for HCV reached 5.5 million in 2015, only about half a million of these persons had received the newer, more effective and better tolerated class of drugs called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs),” the report stated. “There were more new HCV infections than patients who were started on treatment in 2015.”
 
Nonetheless, several countries have started offering more affordable testing and treatment options to infected residents. HCV and HBV can now be diagnosed for $0.50 in some countries. These countries also offer tenofovir, which the report dubs “the most effective hepatitis B treatment,” for $48 a year, and a full regimen of DAAs for the treatment of HCV for $200.
 
The report also highlights the need for “immediate action” to “expand treatment for people living with HIV who are coinfected with HBV or HCV,” because “liver diseases are a major cause of morbidity and mortality” among this population. In fact, in 2015, 2.7 million of those living with HIV (36.7 million individuals) had chronic HBV infection, and 2.3 million had HCV.
 
To get on track for eliminating viral hepatitis globally, countries and global partners can follow five steps set forth by the report:
  1. A strategic information system based on surveillance and programme data is needed to direct policy change and implementation.
  2. Service coverage of testing and treatment needs to be rapidly scaled up.
  3. Hepatitis services need to be delivered through a public health approach to benefit all.
  4. Sustainable financing is required to enable universal health coverage, the overarching framework for health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  5. Innovations are necessary; new diagnostics, treatments, cure and vaccines need to be developed, tested and delivered urgently to transform the hepatitis response and attain the elimination targets. 
Director General Dr. Chan concluded in her statement, “I urge all countries to seize the opportunities set out in this report to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. Doing so will free the world from what we know is a leading killer worldwide.”

To read the full WHO Global Hepatitis Report, click here.
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