Washington, D.C., 28 July 2017 (PAHO/WHO) - The countries of the Americas are taking action to eliminate viral hepatitis, although challenges remain in the detection and diagnosis of this disease, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death if not treated on time.

In the Americas, an estimated 2.8 million people have chronic hepatitis B infection and an estimated 7.2 million have chronic hepatitis C infection. Of the latter, three out of every four people do not know that they are infected by the virus. It is estimated that hepatitis B and C cause around 125,000 deaths each year--more deaths than are caused by tuberculosis and HIV infection combined.

On World Hepatitis Day, July 28th, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) highlights the commitment of its Member States to eliminating this disease, while continuing to advocate for an organized response to prevention, detection, and treatment for people who need it.

"The countries of the Americas are making very great efforts to implement actions and policies that will lead to the elimination of hepatitis, especially preventing hepatitis B and curing hepatitis C," said Massimo Ghidinelli, chief of the HIV, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, and Sexually Transmitted Infections unit at PAHO/WHO. "However, it is a silent epidemic because infected people do not present symptoms until the liver has already been damaged. That is why it is important for the countries to step up efforts to reach the goal of eliminating hepatitis as a public health problem in the Region by 2030," he said.

According to a PAHO/WHO survey in May 2017, at least 21 of the 25 countries surveyed in the Region of the Americas have created frameworks within their Ministries of Health that are now addressing and implementing hepatitis response measures.

The Region has also made major efforts in terms of vaccination against hepatitis B. All countries vaccinate children under 1 year of age against hepatitis B, and 22 of those countries now do so within the first 24 hours of birth, as recommended by WHO.

Furthermore, 24 of the 31 countries surveyed in the Americas systematically monitor pregnant women for hepatitis. Hepatitis B can be transmitted from mother to child during childbirth, among other ways. However, newborn vaccination can prevent infection in 95% of cases, offering future generations lifelong protection against this infection.

Of the 7.2 million people living with chronic hepatitis C in the Region, only 300,000 (4%) receive treatment. Although newly available treatments have the potential to cure over 90% of people infected with hepatitis C and reduce the risk of death due to liver cancer or cirrhosis, they are still not accessible to everyone because of their high cost. Only 18 countries fund them, according to the PAHO report "Hepatitis B and C in the Spotlight", published in January 2017.

In February 2017, the PAHO Strategic Fund included high-cost medicines for the treatment of hepatitis C at affordable prices, giving the countries of the Americas access to the most effective options for hepatitis treatment--an initiative proposed by the countries of the Region on different occasions. The PAHO Strategic Fund is a collective mechanism for the pooled procurement of essential medicines and strategic health supplies for the countries of the Region.

In 2015, Ministers of Health from throughout the Americas agreed on a series of actions (included in PAHO's Regional Plan for Viral Hepatitis 2015-2019) to prevent and control viral hepatitis infection, with an emphasis on hepatitis B and C. The global aim is to eliminate hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030. Among other actions, the Plan calls on countries to create national plans, extend vaccination against hepatitis B to all children under 1 year old and to high-risk and vulnerable population groups, conduct information campaigns, and seek ways to expand access to medicines.

This year's slogan for World Hepatitis Day is "Eliminate Hepatitis"--a call to step up actions to reach the health targets set in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. PAHO has launched a campaign that includes infographics, videos, and social media to provide information on hepatitis prevention and treatment.

2017 World Hepatitis Summit

The World Hepatitis Summit will be held this year from 1-3 November in São Paulo, Brazil, with a focus on moving forward in the fight against hepatitis. The theme of the event is:"Implementing the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis (GHSS): towards the elimination of hepatitis as a public health threat." This is an opportunity for the Region of the Americas to showcase its leadership in public health.

The Summit, organized jointly by WHO, the World Hepatitis Alliance, and the Government of Brazil, will be attended by prominent stakeholders who will meet to promote the global response.

Links

- PAHO-World Hepatitis Day
- Video: ABC of Viral Hepatitis
- 5 Things You Should Know About Viral Hepatitis
- 2017 Highlights: Hepatitis B and C in the Spotlight
- Hepatitis B and C in the Spotlight: A public health response in the Americas
- Eliminate hepatitis: WHO
- WHO: World Hepatitis Day