In celebration of World Hepatitis Day on 28 July, the World Health Organization in the Western Pacific urges governments to intensify comprehensive control efforts against hepatitis to achieve the goal of less than 1% of hepatitis B infections in children by 2017.
“The fight against hepatitis is a public health priority,” says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “Governments and health authorities must scale up successful interventions, develop new approaches and mobilize all resources necessary to adequately address the burden and challenges caused by hepatitis.”
The theme of World Hepatitis Day 2013 is: “This is hepatitis. Know it. Confront it.” Throughout the Region, events will be held to raise awareness of the threat of hepatitis B to public health and to share information about this silent killer.
Viral hepatitis is a group of infectious diseases causing inflammation of the liver. There are five main types of hepatitis virus – A, B, C, D and E – which affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Some of these hepatitis viruses, most notably types B and C, can also lead to chronic and debilitating illnesses. An estimated 500 million people have hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus. Approximately 1.4 million people die each year from causes related to viral hepatitis, most commonly cirrhosis and liver cancer. An estimated 57% of cases of liver cirrhosis and 78% of cases of primary liver cancer result from hepatitis B or C virus infection.
The Western Pacific Region has the highest rates of chronic hepatitis B infections in the world, causing an estimated 890 deaths every day. With the exception of Australia, Japan and New Zealand, where chronic hepatitis B infection rate varies from 2% to 4%, countries in this Region have rates of 5% or more. Hepatitis B virus is one of the most potent causes of liver cancer; 25% of persons with chronic hepatitis B infection will die prematurely from liver cancer or cirrhosis.
In the Western Pacific, most chronic hepatitis B infections are acquired during birth or early childhood. This can be prevented by vaccination at birth followed by at least two more doses. The Region achieved an 85% increase in vaccination at birth and a 90% increase in three-dose coverage from 1990–2011. It is estimated that timely vaccination at birth should reach 90% and three-dose coverage should reach 95% for a country to reduce chronic hepatitis B infection rates in children to less than 1%.
At least 30 of the 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region are estimated to have reduced chronic hepatitis B infection rates in children to less than 2%, which was a regional milestone set for 2012. Countries and areas that have been verified to have reached that milestone are Australia, China, Hong Kong (China), Macao (China), Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and Tonga. The Region is now striving to reduce infection rates to less than 1%. When achieved, an additional 240 000 chronic infections and 60 000 hepatitis B-related deaths will be prevented.
Viral hepatitis places a heavy burden on individuals and the health-care system because of the high costs of treating liver failure and chronic liver disease. In many countries, viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver transplants. Such end-stage treatments are expensive. Moreover, chronic viral hepatitis results in loss of productivity.
Recognizing the tremendous burden caused by viral hepatitis, the World Health Assembly, WHO’s governing body, adopted a resolution in 2010 that called for a comprehensive approach to prevent and control viral hepatitis.
Following the resolution, WHO established the Global Hepatitis Programme with the following goals:
- to reduce the transmission of agents that cause viral hepatitis;
- to reduce deaths due to viral hepatitis by improving care of patients with viral hepatitis; and
- to reduce the socioeconomic impact of viral hepatitis at individual, community and population levels.