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World Hepatitis Day: Urgent increase in hepatitis testing, treatment needed – WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and partners have called on countries to urgently increase hepatitis testing and treatment services in order to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. The calls come in the lead-up to World Hepatitis Day 2018 to be observed on Saturday, July 28, The Day focuses on the theme: “Test.Treat.Hepatitis.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Photo credit: AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI / Getty Images

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a video statement, “We have a clear vision for elimination, and we have the tools to do it. But we must accelerate progress to achieve our goal of eliminating hepatitis by 2030.”

Viral hepatitis B and C affect 325 million people around the world. Left untreated, these infections lead to liver cancer and cirrhosis, which together caused more than 1.3 million deaths in 2015 alone.

Worldwide, less than 20% of people had access to testing and treatment services for hepatitis B and C infections at the end of 2016.

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To mark World Hepatitis Day 2018, WHO is holding several events with the Government of Mongolia, a country that is heavily burdened by hepatitis but also a champion in the global fight.

Over 10% of Mongolia’s three million people are living with chronic hepatitis infection. The country started its national Healthy Liver Programme in 2017, with ambitious targets for 2020.

“Within the first year of the national programme, which targeted the 40–65 year age group, we were able to reach more than 350 000 people with hepatitis testing,” said Ms Davaajantsan Sarangerel, Minister of Health, Mongolia. “Over 70% of people diagnosed with hepatitis were provided with life-saving treatment.” The country aims to provide hepatitis B and C screening to 1.8 million people aged over 15 years.

Mongolia’s progress in the fight against hepatitis is led by political commitment and an ambitious universal health coverage agenda. The country is the first lower-middle-income country in Asia and the Pacific to commit to hepatitis elimination, by ensuring universal access and health insurance coverage for hepatitis testing and treatment for its entire population.

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The Western Pacific Region has the largest number of people living with chronic hepatitis infections among the six WHO regions. At the end of 2015, an estimated 14 million people were living with chronic hepatitis C infection and 115 million with chronic hepatitis B infection. Everyday, 1200 people in the Region die because they are unable to access effective hepatitis care.

“It is encouraging to see one of the most affected countries in our Region demonstrate such leadership,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “As we work towards the goal of eliminating hepatitis, Mongolia sets a great example for other countries in the Region to follow.”

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Aiming to speed up global progress, WHO is also releasing new global guidelines on hepatitis C treatment. The guidelines enable major simplifications in the delivery of curative therapy to the 70 million people living with chronic hepatitis C in the world.

“Eliminating hepatitis will require ongoing innovation, better medicines, and improved health services,” said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO Director for HIV and Hepatitis. “Our new recommendations should pave the way for everybody with hepatitis C to access testing and curative treatment now.”

WHO and global partners are sharing the experiences of countries such as Mongolia to promote sustained political commitment and broad-based partnerships in many other countries. Reinvigorated action and investments in viral hepatitis are necessary to achieve a world where transmission is halted and everyone living with viral hepatitis has access to safe, affordable and effective care and treatment.

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