A global call to action against viral hepatitis

June 8, 2022

According to a release by the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Hepatitis Summit 2022 will review progress and renew commitments by global partners to accelerate action to achieve the global target of eliminating of viral hepatitis by 2030.

At the 2016 World Health Assembly, countries made a historic commitment to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. Since 2016, countries have met the global 2020 target of reducing the incidence of hepatitis B in children under 5 and the number of people receiving treatment for hepatitis C has increased 10-fold.

However, most countries failed to meet other 2020 targets. Timely access to the hepatitis B birth dose is still low in many low- and middle-income countries. Meanwhile, lack of awareness, limited political commitment, as well as stigma and discrimination continue to stop people accessing testing and care. It is estimated 354 million people globally are still living with this life-threatening infection and at least one person dies from viral hepatitis every 30 seconds. That’s over 1 million deaths per year – a greater toll than that from HIV and malaria combined.

“Hepatitis is one of the most devastating diseases on earth, but it’s also one of the most preventable and treatable, with services that can be delivered easily and cheaply at the primary healthcare level,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Many of the reasons people miss out on those services are the same reasons they miss out on services for other health challenges – accessibility and affordability, because of who they are, where they live or how much they earn. We call on all countries to commit to realising the dream of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030, as part of a broader commitment to universal health coverage based on strong primary healthcare.”

Most recently, in the months leading up to the Summit, some 700 cases of sudden and unexplained hepatitis in young children have come under investigation in 34 countries. Symptoms of this acute hepatitis come on quickly leading to a high proportion of children developing liver failure with a few requiring liver transplants.

The Summit will showcase these epidemiologic updates and progress towards the commitment to eliminate hepatitis by 2030. In June 2021, WHO provided interim guidance on the criteria needs to achieve to be validated for the elimination of Hepatitis B and C viruses. Seven countries that have piloted these criteria will share their experiences and progress on the path to elimination.

The new WHO Global Health Sector Strategy (GHSS) on viral hepatitis, 2022-2030, recently reviewed and noted at the World Health Assembly, will play a strong part in this summit, the strategy contains operational and strategic shifts to ensure that globally we are on track to achieve the 2030 goal of ending the disease of viral hepatitis.

This third World Hepatitis Summit will open with a high-level panel discussion featuring Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO; Helen Clark, former Prime Minister, New Zealand; Professor Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, acting Health Minister, Egypt; Dr Tenu Avafia, Deputy Executive Director, Unitaid; and Charles Gore, Executive Director, Medicines Patent Pool.

“Women’s and children’s health needs to be a top priority if we are to achieve hepatitis elimination by 2030. Hepatitis B is a major public health threat requiring collective efforts to advance universal vaccination of new-borns against Hepatitis B and prevent mother-to-child transmission” said Right Honourable Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Board Chair of the Partnership on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH).

Danjuma Adda, World Hepatitis Alliance President, said “we have come a long way, as a global community, in the drive towards hepatitis elimination. I thank WHO and all partners for their support in this journey. We still have a long way to go to reach many populations affected by viral hepatitis. The World Hepatitis Summit promises to deliver on the power of the community, scientific and policy partnerships in driving the elimination goals of viral hepatitis.”

WHO release