WHO says hepatitis is a 'silent epidemic'Listen /
The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging governments to act against the five Hepatitis viruses that can cause severe liver infections and lead to 1.4 million deaths every year.
Some of these hepatitis viruses, most notably types B and C, can also lead to chronic and debilitating illnesses such as liver cancer.
WHO says viral hepatitis is a 'silent epidemic' as most people do not realize that they are infected.
Ahead of World Hepatitis Day to be observed on July 28, WHO says priority areas which need action include raising awareness, evidence-based data for action, prevention of transmission, and screening, care and treatment.
Dr Stefan Wiktor is in charge of the WHO Global Hepatitis Programme.
"We feel it is important that countries have a plan and a designated unit dealing with hepatitis. When we ask countries, 38 per cent said that they had a national plan or strategy but only 29 per cent had a dedicated hepatitis control unit. We will be working with countries to help them develop and implement national hepatitis plans and strategies. There has been tremendous achievement and success in the areas of hepatitis prevention, and this is particularly in hepatitis B immunization. Nearly all countries in the world have adapted universal hepatitis B childhood vaccinations. Around treatment there is what we call and therapeutic revolution for hepatitis, particularly for hepatitis C, with the development of new drugs that are safer, easier to administer and with higher cure rates. Those drugs are not yet available they are in development. But we assessed to what extent countries are ready. Only about half of countries have treatment guidelines in their countries and about half of countries already have the key drugs in their essential medicines list to treat hepatitis B and C."
Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread by infected body fluids including blood, by sexual contact, mother-to-child transmission during birth, or by contaminated medical equipment.
WHO-approved vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A and B, while screening of blood donors, use of clean needle and syringes, and condom use can prevent blood-borne and sexual transmission.
Patrick Maigua, United Nations Radio, Geneva.