Viral hepatitis—particularly hepatitis B and C—has been regarded as the silent killer for decades. However, with some vital progress now made, 2016 could be a turning point for the global prevention and control of viral hepatitis infection.
First, during the World Health Assembly held in May, WHO's first-ever Global Strategy for Viral Hepatitis was approved, which elevates hepatitis to a higher priority and sets the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. As highlighted in the WHO strategy, one of the major barriers to the elimination of viral hepatitis is inadequate data on the public health dimensions and impact of hepatitis epidemics. Second, on July 6, Jeffrey Stanaway and colleagues reported the global burden of viral hepatitis from 1990 to 2013, which, for the first time, places the burden of viral hepatitis in the context of overall global health. Disturbingly, unlike most other communicable diseases, the absolute burden of viral hepatitis and deaths was found to have increased tremendously between 1990 and 2013. The greatest absolute number of deaths and disability-adjusted life-years attributable to viral hepatitis in 2013 was seen in China. Although the knowledge and approaches required to eliminate hepatitis such as vaccines and antiviral treatment are already in existence, accessibility and affordability of effective treatment and care services for viral hepatitis are a major concern in most countries. In China, access to treatment is very poor, due to the high price of drugs, complex and slow national drug registration and approval systems, and the absence of a national public health approach with resources spent rationally—ie, spending health resources on drugs that work to stop people from falling ill and dying.
On July 28, when World Hepatitis Day will be observed, policy makers, health workers, and the public are called upon to “know hepatitis—act now”. To realise the vision of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030, much more vigorous action to reform health policy—particularly drug price policy—as well as the funding for hepatitis, at both global and national levels, must be taken.
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