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Call for urgency to eliminate hepatitis

27 Jul 2021

The World Hepatitis Day – observed each year on July 28 to raise awareness of viral hepatitis – will this year focus on the urgency to eliminate it.

This year’s theme is ‘Hepatitis can’t wait’, conveying the urgency of efforts needed to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. 

Viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that causes severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer. 

With a person dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis-related illness, medical experts say that  the world can’t wait to act on viral hepatitis even though the world is battling the COVID-19 crisis.

Dr Ahmed al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said, “This is a chance to reflect on our member states’ commitment to ensuring the continuity of hepatitis services and reaching the elimination targets in the Global Health Sector Strategy and our regional vision of Health for All by All.”

According to WHO estimates, in 2020 there were 30mn people chronically infected with viral hepatitis in the Eastern Mediterranean Region; 65,000 people died of hepatitis and 570,000 became infected.

“COVID-19 made it even more difficult to deliver essential health services, including vaccination, diagnosis and care. But despite the challenges, and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, WHO’s Thirteenth Programme of Work (GPW 13) and our vision for the region, Vision 2023, we must not lose sight of our goal of universal health coverage,” Dr Mandhari said.

He said that successful elimination requires scaling up five key recommended interventions. 

“We need to vaccinate infants against hepatitis B, prevent mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B virus, ensure blood and injection safety, reduce harm among people who inject drugs and implement testing with a view to treatment,” Dr Mandhari added.

Unfortunately, there are people who are still getting infected with hepatitis viruses in healthcare settings – precisely where they should expect to be safe. 

“Unsafe injection continues to be a driving source of hepatitis B and C virus infections and other blood-borne diseases such as HIV. Coverage of hepatitis B birth dose vaccination remains far too low. Such coverage hinders our efforts to achieve a hepatitis-free future for coming generations.”

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