The World Health Organization (WHO) released data stating that about 1.4 million people suffer from hepatitis A (HAV) alone. On the alarming growth of viral hepatitis globally, the report notes that about a million deaths occur annually due to viral hepatitis infections.
Together, Hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) are the leading causes of liver cancer in the world, accounting for 78 percent of cancer related cases. An important aspect of the report states that most people who have contracted the virus are more often than not unaware of the infection.
The report says that hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E cause acute and chronic infections, while also causing inflammation of the liver leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. These viruses constitute a major global health risk with around 350 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis B and around 170 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis C.
Early diagnosis remains the primary goal of the WHO, as it provides information and intervention programs for effective medical treatment. WHO-led programs enable people living with hepatitis to take steps in preventing transmission of the disease. The WHO report also states that safe and effective vaccines are widely available for HAV and HBV. While regular screening of blood, using sterile injections and safe sex can help to contain and prevent transmission of HBV and HCV; safe drinking water and hygienic food could prevent the spread of HAV and hepatitis E virus (HEV).
A study published in the medical journal, Lancet notes that only one in five infants around the world is vaccinated against hepatitis B at birth. The data from a research led by Prof Louisa Degenhardt of the Centre for Population Health, Burnet Institute, Melbourne, Australia, and Paul Nelson from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales show that about 67 percent of injecting drug users worldwide have been exposed to hepatitis C, while around 10 percent contract hepatitis B.
HCV is generally considered curable, but for many this might not be a reality, the report says. Although scientific upgrades and research have developed new oral antiviral drugs for HCV infection, a good number of HCV specific oral drugs are in late stages of development. Others have been recently registered. The report argues that despite new advances, much needs to be done to ensure that these new treatment have greater access and treatment responses in countries which succumb to resource crunch or not linked to global outreach programs for eradicating occurrences of hepatitis infections.
The WHO World Hepatitis Day is a bid to create awareness on viral hepatitis and its contributing diseases. With early diagnosis as its primary aim, the awareness generated is based on strengthening prevention modes while screening and controlling viral hepatitis and its related diseases. The other intention has been to increase hepatitis B vaccine coverage while integrating it into national immunization programs. Coordinating global response to hepatitis is one of the underlying goals in celebrating July 28 as World Hepatitis Day.
Calling it as a silent epidemic, a statement released by the CDC to mark the day noted that in the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services has developed an action plan to speed progress in combating viral hepatitis. The CDC pledged to play a key role in U.S. efforts in implementing a comprehensive plan that would assist other countries in raising public and provider awareness. Through safe interventions and by joining hands with policymakers worldwide, the CDC proposes to encourage viable systems worldwide for prevention, care and treatment of hepatitis infections in those countries.