The World Health Organisation is calling for developed nations to play a leading role in work on viral hepatitis.
It is known that the disease is currently killing as many people globally as HIV and TB, with the death toll in 2015 reaching 1.34 million people.
A new report confirms this figure, while also suggesting that an estimated 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis caused by B or C virus infection.
Although there are hepatitis vaccines and medicines available, distributing them to those in need often proves problematical.
There are logistical reasons for this, but it is also partly due to the fact that infections are not always effectively identified.
Indeed, just 9% of all hepatitis B infections and 20% for hepatitis C infections were diagnosed in the 2015 calendar year.
Consequently, the World Health Organisation suggests that millions of people are placed at an unnecessary risk, with chronic liver disease, cancer and ultimately death all possible results.
In some parts of the world, including regions within Africa and the Western Pacific, hepatitis B and C infections are all hugely common, and treatment can be conspicuous by its absence.
Yet the World Health Organisation points to the achievement of some countries in implementing new initiatives that have resulted in hepatitis coverage being significantly improved.
For example, China has achieved a 96% coverage rate for the timely birthdays of HPV vaccines, and reached the hepatitis B control goal of less than 1% prevalence in children under the age of five back in 2015.
This is despite the huge Chinese population, in excess of one-billion people, which means that implementing any medical programmes across the nation is hugely complicated.
Mongolia also improved uptake of hepatitis treatment by including hepatitis B and C medicines in its National Health Insurance scheme, which covers 98% of its population
Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, from the World Health Organisation, noted the progress made globally, but also suggested that more needs to be done in order to eradicate the problems caused by hepatitis.
“We are still at an early stage of the viral hepatitis response, but the way forward looks promising. More countries are making hepatitis services available for people in need – a diagnostic test costs less than $1, and the cure for hepatitis C can be below $200. But the data clearly highlight the urgency with which we must address the remaining gaps in testing and treatment.”
While Raquel Peck, from the World Hepatitis Alliance, believes that the report published by the World Health Organisation should be a wake-up call for countries all over the globe.
“Today, 325 million men, women and children are living with a cancer-causing illness, despite the availability of preventative vaccines for hepatitis B and curative treatments for hepatitis C. We need to use this report to advocate for a public health approach, so that testing and treatment are rolled out at the scale necessary to ensure that every person has the opportunity to live a healthy life.”
Data that has recently become available, shows that in the WHO European Region an estimated 13.3 million people live with chronic hepatitis B (1.8% of adults) and an estimated 15 million people with hepatitis C (2.0% of adults).