Do your part to prevent hepatitis

News release

Nearly 40% of global deaths attributable to viral hepatitis occur in the Western Pacific, more than the combined death toll from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. To mark World Hepatitis Day on 28 July, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region urges policy-makers, health workers and the public to take action to stop infection and death from hepatitis B and C.

“In this day and age, people should not suffer from diseases that can be prevented with vaccines,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “When solid political will and commitment are matched with viable resources for immunization, dramatic results can be achieved.”

What is viral hepatitis?

Viral hepatitis is a group of infectious diseases causing inflammation of the liver. There are five main types of hepatitis virus: A, B, C, D and E. These infections affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Hepatitis B virus infection can cause chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and cancer. The virus is transmitted through exposure to infected body fluids. Infection often occurs during childbirth or early childhood but can be prevented through vaccination at birth followed by at least two additional doses during infancy. Treatment also exists to suppress the virus.

Hepatitis C can cause acute and chronic hepatitis infection, ranging from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a lifelong illness resulting in liver cirrhosis or cancer. Hepatitis C is blood borne, the virus is most commonly transmitted through unsafe injection practices; unsterile medical equipment in health-care settings; and unscreened blood and blood products. There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C but effective treatment can cure most patients in just three months.

The burden of hepatitis B and C in the Western Pacific Region

Viral hepatitis places a heavy burden on individuals and health systems because of the high costs of treating liver failure and chronic liver disease. In many countries, viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver transplants.

Liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the Region and approximately 78% of liver cancer cases are a result of chronic viral hepatitis B or C. China alone accounts for more than 50% of the global liver cancer burden.

The Western Pacific Region accounts for more than 50% of the 240 million chronic hepatitis B infections worldwide. An estimated 900 people die each day from hepatitis B-related cirrhosis and liver cancer in the Region.

The Western Pacific also bears nearly half of the global burden of chronic hepatitis C infections. Of the 130–150 million people chronically infected with hepatitis C worldwide, more than 60 million live in the Western Pacific Region.

Sadly, very few of the individuals infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C in the Region are receiving treatment. Urgent action is needed to increase access to treatment and reduce the stigma associated with hepatitis infection.

WHO response

The Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly called on Member States to develop and implement national strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat viral hepatitis based on the local epidemiological context. The draft Regional Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis in the Western Pacific seeks to support Member States’ efforts in five priority areas.

The following are the priority areas in the draft Regional Action plan for Viral Hepatitis:

  • Broad-based advocacy and awareness
  • Evidence-informed policy to guide comprehensive hepatitis action
  • Data to support the national hepatitis response
  • Stopping transmission
  • Accessible and effective hepatitis treatment

Regional successes against viral hepatitis

In 2005, the Western Pacific Region became the first WHO region to have infant hepatitis B immunization included in the national immunization programmes of all of its Member States. The Region achieved an 85% increase in vaccination at birth and a 91% increase in three-dose coverage from 1990 to 2013.

At least 30 of the 37 countries and areas in the Region have reduced chronic hepatitis B infection rates in children to less than 2%. The Region is now striving to reduce infection rates to less than 1% by 2017. When achieved, this could prevent an additional 240 000 chronic infections and 60 000 hepatitis B-related deaths.

“I am proud that our Member States are saving lives through hepatitis immunization at birth. But we cannot rest. We must do more to end the suffering caused by hepatitis,” said Dr Shin.

For further information, please contact:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Public Information Office
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@who.int

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