Hepatitis: A Global Problem

Each year, viral hepatitis causes more than ONE million entirely preventable deaths.

Nearly 330 million people have chronic hepatitis B or C virus infection, and viral hepatitis is the seventh leading cause of death globally. Yet less than 1 in 10 persons with chronic viral hepatitis, which can cause liver cancer, know they have it.

Misconceptions often prevent the disease’s diagnosis and treatment. People with the disease are often undiagnosed until later in life, when they develop life-threatening illnesses resulting from liver cirrhosis or cancer.

According to WHO, hepatitis B is most pervasive in sub-Saharan Africa and east Asia, where more than one in 10 adults live with hepatitis B because they did not benefit from routine childhood vaccination programmes. High rates of chronic infections are also found in the South American Amazon region and the southern parts of eastern and central Europe. Hepatitis B is also common in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

The central and east Asian and north and west African regions are the most affected by hepatitis C, primarily due to unsafe medical injections and other medical procedures. However, epidemic hepatitis C virus infections among people who inject drugs affect all regions worldwide.

The good news is that we have the means to stop this pandemic.

Highly effective prevention and treatment tools exist in the form of childhood vaccinations for hepatitis B that prevent 95% of infections. New drugs can cure more than 90% of chronic hepatitis C infections. Treatment can reverse liver scarring and the risk of cancer.

Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of hepatitis B could be eliminated via a comprehensive approach that includes prevention of hepatitis B virus infection in young women, testing for hepatitis B during pregnancy and treating those mothers at highest risk of infecting their newborns and providing hepatitis B virus vaccine to all infants within 24 hours of birth.