With millions of people around the globe who are unaware they have viral hepatitis or are unable to receive treatment, the United Nations health agency on Friday appealed that the “mission millions” be found, tested and treated from the potentially life-threatening liver condition.
The call by the World Health Organization (WHO) came on the eve of World Hepatitis Day, observed on July 28 every year, to raise global awareness about hepatitis, a group of infectious diseases known as Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, and encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment. For World Hepatitis Day this year, WHO’s theme was: "Test. Treat. Hepatitis".
1.34 million die of hepatitis annually
In a video message for World Hepatitis Day, WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined the gravity of the hepatitis scenario worldwide.
Viral hepatitis B and C are major health challenges, affecting 325 million people globally. Of these only 10 percent are aware they have the disease and only 10 per cent of those who do know are actually receiving treatment. Viral hepatitis slowly and silently degrades a person’s health, leading to liver cancer and cirrhosis which cause 1.34 million deaths every year.
The WHO director-general pointed out that Mongolia bears one of the highest burdens of liver cancer and cirrhosis in the world, but he expressed appreciation for the nation for taking on the challenge of eliminating hepatitis with commitment and force.
Hepatitis B and C may not show symptoms for a long period, sometimes years or decades. At least 60% of liver cancer cases are due to late testing and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C. Low coverage of testing and treatment is the most important gap to be addressed in order to achieve the global elimination goals by 2030. For this to happen, effort must focus not only on treatment but also prevention.
According to Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia the lack of awareness and treatment leads to progressive liver damage and can cause life-threatening conditions, such as fibrosis and liver cancer, resulting in an estimated 410,000 deaths in the Region every year. In South-East Asia, an estimated 40 million people live with chronic hepatitis B while an estimated 10 million live with chronic hepatitis C.