New Hepatitis B treatment guidelines released in China

News release

The World Health Organisation (WHO) today released its first-ever guidelines for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B in Chinese. Chronic hepatitis B infection is caused by a virus which is spread through blood and body fluids, and attacks the liver. Chronic hepatitis B infection leads to more than 330,000 cancer-related deaths in China each year.

An estimated 90 million people – almost 7% of China’s population – are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus.

While most of those infected do not experience symptoms and are therefore not aware that they are infected, 3 out of 10 people who become chronically infected may develop serious, life-threatening illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Liver cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in Chinese men, and one of the top five most common cancers in women.

“While hepatitis B is a major public health issue in China, the good news is that it is entirely preventable through immunisation. China is a world leader in vaccinating infants and children against hepatitis B, so that most young people are protected today,” said Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China.

“But there are tens of millions of Chinese adults who may have contracted hepatitis B before vaccination was available. Most do not know that they are infected. Untreated, these people stand a three in ten chance of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer,” Dr Schwartländer said.

“It is crucially important that people with chronic hepatitis B infection be tested and treated now, before these much more serious illnesses have a chance to emerge. This is why the new guidelines being released in Chinese today are so important – they will help to guide China’s doctors to make the right decisions for patients with hepatitis B infection,” Dr Schwartländer explained.

The WHO guidelines for the prevention, care and treatment of persons living with chronic hepatitis B infection lay out a simplified approach to the care of people living with chronic hepatitis B. The guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations on determining who needs treatment, what medicines to use, and how to monitor people long term.

The recommendations in the new guidelines include:

  • use of a few simple non-invasive and less expensive tests to assess the stage of liver disease to identify those who need treatment;
  • prioritizing treatment for those with cirrhosis of the liver – the most advanced stage of liver disease;
  • use of two safe and highly effective medicines, tenofovir or entacavir, for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B; and
  • regular monitoring using simple tests for early detection of liver cancer, to assess if treatment is working, and when treatment can be stopped.

The two medicines recommended for treatment of hepatitis B are available in China – tenofovir, for example, is used for treatment of people living with HIV, as well as those who are co-infected with HIV and hepatitis B.

However, reimbursement under health insurance for the cost of these drugs is not always available for treatment of hepatitis B – rendering the cost unaffordable, and thus the treatment inaccessible, for many people.

“Ensuring that these medicines are affordable to those who need them most – as they are in many other countries around the world – must be a top priority for China. This will prevent millions of cases of liver cancer, and it will save lives,” Dr Schwartländer said.

“We hope these new guidelines, formulated based on evidence from all over the world – and with the advice of leading global, including Chinese, experts – will help to pave the way for more effective treatment for people living with chronic hepatitis B infection in China. Many millions of Chinese people will be able to live healthier and longer lives as a result,” concluded Dr Schwartländer.

About the World Health Organization

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

For more information please contact

Ms WU Linlin
WHO China Office
Office Tel: +86 10 6532 7191