Opening remarks of Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the First hepatitis programme focal points meeting

22 June 2016 – Hong Kong

Dr Ko Wing-man, Secretary for Food and Health of Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region;
Participants from Member States;
Representatives from partner agencies and institutions;
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a pleasure to be with you again.

Last year, we gathered in Manila for the initial Member State consultation on viral hepatitis in the Western Pacific Region. We started on a journey to fight diseases that affect many people across our Region — even loved ones for many of us.

Today, there is growing consensus that we must address this terrible burden.

The regional action plan for viral hepatitis was endorsed last year by the Regional Committee. Many of you here contributed to its development. The action plan provides a systematic approach to address viral hepatitis, including immunization and beyond.

As a Region, we have reached the 2017 goal of less than 1% chronic hepatitis B prevalence among 5-year-olds. We are a year AHEAD of schedule!

This tremendous achievement will have a lasting impact. An estimated 7 million hepatitis B-related deaths will be averted. So far, 37 million new infections have been avoided due to successful immunization programmes.

Last year, I talked about the new tools we have to fight these diseases. It has been exciting to see new hepatitis B and C medicines increasingly available across our Region.

WHO released new hepatitis C treatment guidance in April. Recommended treatments cure more than 95% of people living with infection. Imagine if these medicines were available to everyone living with hepatitis C. True elimination of hepatitis C may finally be within reach.

I myself was excited to be at the World Health Assembly last month in Geneva when the new global health sector strategy for viral hepatitis was endorsed. The strategy calls for the elimination of hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030, as well as a 65% reduction in mortality from chronic infection.

In the Western Pacific Region, we have taken the first steps towards elimination. We stand ready to support your efforts towards this goal.

In China, high vaccination coverage has resulted in chronic hepatitis B prevalence well below 0.5% among children.

In Mongolia, more than 2000 people have been treated with new direct acting antivirals for hepatitis C, since they became available in November. Tenofovir for hepatitis B is now available in the national health insurance programme.

In Viet Nam, challenges with birth dose coverage are being addressed, and effective hepatitis B treatment is now available for about seven US dollars a month.

Now several countries — including Japan and Australia —are fully incorporating all hepatitis antivirals recommended by WHO into their national health insurance schemes.

Yesterday, I attended a roundtable summit that proposed establishing a fund to support collective actions to address viral hepatitis, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

The momentum for such a fund is tremendous.

Together, we can continue to support each other to address the Region’s needs, and those of affected individuals, families and communities.

Finally, I would like to thank the Hong Kong Government for hosting this important meeting and the ZeShan Foundation for their generous support.

I wish you productive discussions over the next two days and look forward to contributions to our collective work to stop viral hepatitis.

I declare the meeting open.