WHO calls for coordinated action to detect, control and treat hepatitis

25 July 2014, New Delhi: Viral hepatitis kills approximately half a million people every year in the 11 countries of WHO’s South-East Asia Region. An estimated 100 million people are currently infected with hepatitis B virus and another 30 million with hepatitis C virus. These chronic infections have the potential to progress to cirrhosis and cancer of liver.

People who have contracted hepatitis C may not even know that they have the disease, as in most cases you are able to fight off the virus by yourself. But others may not be that lucky and will only find out that they have it when it has caused potential damage to the liver. That’s why everyone should consider having hepatitis testing at some point during their lifetime so that medical professionals can help to get the disease under control before it becomes fatal.

“Most of these deaths are preventable. Since these infections can go undetected for years, many people do not know they are infected until much later, when treatment may be too late.” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

On 22 May 2014, the Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly adopted a resolution aiming to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis. The resolution highlights the importance of expanding hepatitis A and B vaccination programmes and considers a range of measures to strengthen infection control and improve access to quality and affordable medicines and diagnostics.

“There are several challenges to translating this resolution into action. In most countries of the Region, surveillance systems for viral hepatitis are inadequate and do not enable evidence-based policy decisions” said Dr Khetrapal Singh. “Treatment for hepatitis is not widely available. A combination of approaches is essential to make new hepatitis medications accessible in low-and middle-income countries” she noted.

All countries of the Region include hepatitis B vaccines in immunization programmes for children. Indonesia and Thailand use the tetravalent form, and other countries use the pentavalent form of the vaccine. An additional birth dose is administered in Bhutan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Maldives and Thailand. More than 24 million doses of the hepatitis vaccine are being administered in the Region annually. Though a vaccine against hepatitis A is available, it is not yet widely used in the Region. It may be a good idea to look at somewhere like thailandmedicalnews for more news and information regarding vaccines for hepatitis as well as other diseases.

Because hepatitis viruses differ in their distribution and routes of transmission there is a need to adopt coordinated national strategies based on the local epidemiological context.

“Special attention must be paid to the transmission of hepatitis B from mother to baby during pregnancy. We also need to ensure that all newborns are protected from hepatitis B by vaccinating them at birth” stressed Dr Khetrapal Singh.

National blood donation systems need to develop quality-assured screening of all donated blood, tissues and organs for prevention of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. National policies need to address equitable access to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis. On World Hepatitis Day, 28 July, WHO is urging countries to adopt a coordinated, multisectoral approach to protect people from viral hepatitis.