WHO urges countries to invest in eliminating hepatitis

July 29, 2019
$58.7 billion would eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in 67 countries by 2030.

Sunday, July 28, was World Hepatitis Day and the World Health Organization is calling on countries to take advantage of recent reductions in the costs of diagnosing and treating viral hepatitis and scale up investments in disease elimination.

A new study by WHO, published in Lancet Global Health, has found that investing $6 billion per year in eliminating hepatitis in 67 low- and middle-income countries would avert 4.5 million premature deaths by 2030, and more than 26 million deaths beyond that target date.

WHO says a total of $58.7 billion is needed to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in these 67 countries by 2030. This means reducing new hepatitis infections by 90 percent and deaths by 65 percent.

“Today 80 percent of people living with hepatitis can’t get the services they need to prevent, test for and treat the disease,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in the statement.

By investing in diagnostic tests and medicines for treating hepatitis B and C now, countries can save lives and reduce costs related to long-term care of cirrhosis and liver cancer that result from untreated hepatitis.

Some countries are already taking action. The Government of India, for example, has announced that it will offer free testing and treatment for both hepatitis B and C, as part of its universal health coverage plan. This has been facilitated through the reduction in prices of medicines. In India, a hepatitis C cure costs less than $40 and a year of hepatitis B treatment costs less than $30. At these prices, hepatitis C cure will result in healthcare cost savings within three years.

The Government of Pakistan has also been able to procure hepatitis C curative treatment at similarly low prices. Providing curative treatment to all those currently diagnosed with hepatitis C could also reduce healthcare costs in Pakistan within three years. Meanwhile, Pakistan is faced with one of the highest new annual infection rates of hepatitis C virus and is launching a new infection control and injection safety plan on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day to stop transmission.

No access to prevention, testing and treatment for most

For the vast majority of the 325 million people living with hepatitis B and/or C, accessing testing and treatment remains beyond reach. Of the estimated 257 million living with hepatitis B infection:

·  10.5 percent (27 million) knew their infection status in 2016.

·  Of those people diagnosed, only 17 percent (4.5 million) received treatment in 2016.

·  In 2016, 1.1 million people newly developed chronic hepatitis B infection - a primary cause of liver cancer.

Of the estimated 71 million people living with chronic hepatitis C infection in 2015:

·  19 percent (13.1 million) knew their infection status in 2017.

·  Of those people diagnosed, 15 percent (2 million) received curative treatment in that same year. Overall, between 2014 and 2017, 5 million people have received hepatitis C curative treatment.

·  In 2017, 1.75 million people newly developed chronic hepatitis C infection.