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WHO raises alarm on viral hepatitis claiming 3500 lives each day

Source The Ghana Report

The World Health Organization(WHO) has cautioned the public on the rise of viral hepatitis infections, claiming about 3500 lives each day.

The 2024 Global Hepatitis Report by the WHO reveals that the number of lives lost due to viral hepatitis is increasing.

WHO, in a statement released on April 9, 2024, indicated that viral hepatitis infection is the second leading infectious cause of death globally, with 1.3 million deaths per year, the same as tuberculosis, a top infectious killer.

Viral hepatitis is an infection that causes liver inflammation and damage. Inflammation is swelling that occurs when tissues of the body become injured or infected.

The report, released at the World Hepatitis Summit, highlights that despite better tools for diagnosis and treatment and decreasing product prices, testing and treatment coverage rates have stalled. However, 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, 3500 people are 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 in using all the tools at their disposal—at access prices—to save lives and turn this trend around,” he added.

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.

The report also revealed that 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.

WHO indicated that 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.

Subsequently, the WHO expressed worry over how funding for viral hepatitis at a global level or within dedicated country health budgets has made it difficult to meet the needs.

“This arises from a combination of factors, including limited awareness of cost-saving interventions and tools, as well as competing priorities in global health agendas”, the statement added.

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