On World Hepatitis Day, 28 July, WHO welcomes new progress in tackling one of the world’s most serious diseases. Viral hepatitis – a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E – affects millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic liver disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year.
“For years, viral hepatitis has been largely neglected,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General at WHO. “But now we are beginning to see greater awareness and global momentum building to tackle it.”
This increasing interest stimulated debate on hepatitis at the 2014 World Health Assembly, when 194 countries endorsed a resolution to intensify efforts to prevent, diagnose, and treat viral hepatitis. The resolution emphasizes how important it is for countries to have comprehensive national plans to tackle hepatitis - designed to meet the needs of the country, using the resources available.
The World Health Assembly, composed of health ministers and other representatives from all WHO Member States, noted that testing is key: today, most people with hepatitis do not know they are infected, as often symptoms only appear decades later after serious liver disease sets in. It also highlighted the need to invest in effective prevention strategies. These include comprehensive programmes for people who inject drugs, assuring access to safe injections and blood transfusions, and expanding immunization programmes to protect people from hepatitis A and B.