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WHO Reports Global Burden of Viral Hepatitis Is Increasing

APR 21, 2017 | SARAH ANWAR
The World Health Organization (WHO) just published the very first Global Hepatitis Report, which supports WHO’s goal of significantly reducing the number of new viral hepatitis cases and related deaths by 2030.
In May of last year, WHO “endorsed the Global Health Sector Strategy (GHSS) on viral hepatitis 2016-2021,” which aims to reduce new cases by 90% and mortality rates by 65%. Recently, a modeling study from the Center for Disease Analysis observed that WHO had not yet set “the exact measures that need to be taken to achieve” the GHSS goal.
Today, April 21, 2017, WHO released a report that outlines the 2015 global burden of hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV), the leading causes of all hepatitis-related deaths. According to WHO, the report “presents data along the five strategic directions (strategic information, interventions, equity, financing, and innovation) – [which are the] key pillars of the GHSS to facilitate monitoring of progress in countries, regions, and globally, and to measure the impact of interventions on reducing new infections and saving lives between 2015 and 2030.”
According to the report, in 2015 alone, 325 million people (4.4% of the world’s population according to the World Hepatitis Alliance) were living with viral hepatitis. HBV infections accounted for 257 million (3.5%) of these cases. In that same year, HBV and HCV were the cause of 1.34 million deaths worldwide, a large number of which were due to chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma. This number far exceeds the number of deaths worldwide related to HIV and tuberculosis (TB) in 2015. Furthermore, although the number of HIV- and TB-related deaths seems to be on a downward trend, “the number of deaths due to viral hepatitis is increasing over time.” The report notes that those areas with the highest burden of HBV are the WHO African Region and the Western Pacific Region, with the highest HCV burden lying in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, and the European Region. In addition, HCV burden “affects all regions, with major differences between and within countries.”
In 2015, 84% of infants worldwide received the HBV vaccine. As a result, HBV infection among children has dropped to 1.3%. In contrast, the global burden of HCV infections increased in 2015. The report notes, “Globally, 5% of healthcare-related injections remained unsafe [in 2015],” which led to millions of new HCV infections in that year.
As a matter of fact, “Each year, 1.75 million people newly acquire hepatitis C virus infection… The world has only recently expressed its alarm about the burden of viral hepatitis,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, wrote in the report’s Foreword.

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