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WHO sounds alarm on viral hepatitis infections claiming 3,500 lives each day

WHO sounds alarm on viral hepatitis infections claiming 3,500 lives each day
11 Apr 2024 11:08


The number of lives lost due to viral hepatitis is increasing, and the disease is the second leading infectious cause of death globally - with 1.3 million deaths per year, the same as tuberculosis, a top infectious killer, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2024 Global Hepatitis Report.

The report, released at the World Hepatitis Summit, highlights that despite better diagnosis and treatment tools and decreasing product prices, testing and treatment coverage rates have stalled. But, reaching the WHO elimination goal by 2030 should still be achievable, if swift actions are taken now.

New data from 187 countries show that the estimated number of deaths from viral hepatitis increased from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022. Of these, 83% were caused by hepatitis B and 17% by hepatitis C. Every day, there are 3,500 people dying globally due to hepatitis B and C infections.

“This report paints a troubling picture: despite progress globally in preventing hepatitis infections, deaths are rising because far too few people with hepatitis are being diagnosed and treated,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “WHO is committed to supporting countries to use all the tools at their disposal - at access prices - to save lives and turn this trend around.”

Updated WHO estimates indicate that 254 million people live with hepatitis B and 50 million with hepatitis C in 2022. Half the burden of chronic hepatitis B and C infections is among people 30–54 years old, with 12% among children under 18 years of age. Men account for 58% of all cases.

New incidence estimates indicate a slight decrease compared to 2019, but the overall incidence of viral hepatitis remains high. In 2022, there were 2.2 million new infections, down from 2.5 million in 2019.

These include 1.2 million new hepatitis B infections and nearly 1 million new hepatitis C infections. More than 6000 people are getting newly infected with viral hepatitis each day.

The revised estimates are derived from enhanced data from national prevalence surveys. They also indicate that prevention measures such as immunization and safe injections, along with the expansion of hepatitis C treatment, have contributed to reducing the incidence.

Across all regions, only 13% of people living with chronic hepatitis B infection had been diagnosed and approximately 3% (7 million) had received antiviral therapy at the end of 2022. Regarding hepatitis C, 36% had been diagnosed and 20% (12.5 million) had received curative treatment.

These results fall well below the global targets to treat 80% of people living with chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C by 2030. However, they do indicate slight but consistent improvement in diagnosis and treatment coverage since the last reported estimates in 2019. Specifically, hepatitis B diagnosis increased from 10% to 13%, treatment from 2% to 3%, hepatitis C diagnosis from 21% to 36% and treatment from 13% to 20%.

The burden of viral hepatitis varies regionally. The WHO African Region bears 63% of new hepatitis B infections, yet despite this burden, only 18% of newborns in the region receive the hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination. In the Western Pacific Region, which accounts for 47% of hepatitis B deaths, treatment coverage stands at 23% among people diagnosed, which is far too low to reduce mortality.

The report outlines a series of actions to advance a public health approach to viral hepatitis, designed to accelerate progress towards ending the epidemic by 2030. They include:

expanding access to testing and diagnostics;

shifting from policies to implementation for equitable treatment;

strengthening primary care prevention efforts;

simplifying service delivery, optimising product regulation and supply;

developing investment cases in priority countries;

mobilising innovative financing;

using improved data for action; and

Engaging affected communities and civil society and advancing research for improved diagnostics and potential cures for hepatitis B.

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