World Hepatitis Day: New WHO Data Reveal Why We Should Care, How Far We Have Come

Approximately 325 million individuals are living with hepatitis worldwide.

As communities join together around the globe to recognize World Hepatitis Day, they are united by a common goal: to continue the momentum of eliminating hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

In 2015, an estimated 325 million individuals were living with chronic hepatitis worldwide. Among these patients, 1.34 million died of the disease. Furthermore, hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus (HCV) together cause 80% of liver cancers around the world.

In the face of these daunting statistics, the fight to eliminate hepatitis continues. Antiviral drugs continue to dominate the markets and are associated with a cure rate of 95% in patients with HCV, and researchers continue to develop new therapies and vaccinations.

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) released new data from 28 countries, which represent approximately 70% of the global hepatitis burden.

The findings show that 86% of countries have established high-level national hepatitis elimination targets, and more than 70% have initiated national hepatitis plans that can improve access to effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and patient care services, according to the report.

“It is encouraging to see countries turning commitment into action to tackle hepatitis,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement. “Identifying interventions that have a high impact is a key step towards eliminating this devastating disease. Many countries have succeeded in scaling-up the hepatitis B vaccination. Now we need to push harder to increase access to diagnosis and treatment.”

The report also showed nearly half of the 28 countries surveyed are hoping to eliminate hepatitis by providing universal access to treatment. However, WHO expressed concerns regarding the speed of the progress.

“The national response towards hepatitis elimination is gaining momentum,” Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the HIV Department and Global Hepatitis Program, WHO, said in a statement. “However, at best, 1 in 10 people who are living with hepatitis know they are infected and can access treatment. This is unacceptable.

“For hepatitis elimination to become a reality, countries need to accelerate their efforts and increase investments in life-saving care. There is simply no reason why many millions of people still have not been tested for hepatitis and cannot access the treatment for which they are in dire need.”

As World Hepatitis Day kicks off, WHO is calling on countries to continue their efforts to eliminate hepatitis through increased services.

In addition, this week WHO prequalified the first generic version of sofosbuvir, which is only a fraction of the price of its reference drug.

These year’s theme for World Hepatitis Day is “Eliminate Hepatitis,” which incorporates the Sustainable Development goals of eliminating hepatitis by 2030.

Infographic designed by Gwen Salas