On the eve of World Hepatitis Day, the World Health Organization is calling for stepped up action to eliminate Hepatitis B and C by 2030. It says the goal can be reached by scaling up diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the diseases, which can cause death from cirrhosis and liver cancer.
WHO reports viral Hepatitis B and C affected 325 million people and caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015, and is calling for the elimination of the public health threat by reducing new infections by 90 percent and death by 65 percent by 2030.
Officials say it can be done if countries show the political will and invest in available tools to rid the world of the ailment. They say the epidemic of Hepatitis B, which mainly affects the African and Western Pacific regions, can be prevented by vaccinating infants against the disease.
In regard to Hepatitis C, the director of the WHO Department of HIV Global Hepatitis Program, Gottfried Hirnschall, says there has been a sea change in the treatment of this disease. He tells VOA until four years ago no good treatment existed for Hepatitis C, which kills nearly 400,000 people annually.
“Then we saw the revolution. New drugs came on the market that are really fantastic drugs,” Hirnschall noted. “They have very limited side effects. You only have to take them for three months and 95 percent of people are cured. And, even those who are not cured in the first round, we now have even alternatives that we can provide to those.”
Hirnschall notes the revolutionary kickoff of the new drugs was hampered by the huge $84,000 cost for the three-month course of treatment. But he says the cost in developing countries now has dropped to between $260 and $280.
A survey of 28 countries, representing about 70 percent of the global hepatitis burden, finds efforts to eliminate hepatitis are gathering speed. It says nearly all the countries have set up high-level elimination committees and more than half are allocating money to move the process forward.