By Fatoumatta K. Jallow
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, has said that by 2030, the African Region wants to eliminate viral hepatitis as a major public health threat. He said with the launch of the document ‘Prevention, Care and Treatment of viral hepatitis in the African Region: Framework for action 2016–2020’, WHO provides guidance to Member States in the Region on how to implement the first-ever Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis, which was adopted last May at the World Health Assembly.
“Over the next five years, the African Region should have one third less chronic viral hepatitis B and C infections,” he said.
According to the WHO Africa Regional Director, they also want to bring down the number of viral hepatitis B and C related deaths by 10%.
Dr Moeti described viral hepatitis as an infection of the liver caused by five distinct hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D, and E) and is a highly widespread public health problem in the African Region. “All five hepatitis viruses can cause severe disease, but the highest numbers of deaths result from liver cancer and cirrhosis –a condition in which there is irreversible scarring of the liver following chronic Infection with hepatitis B and C,” he said.
The WHO Regional Director added, “Around the world 400 million people are infected with hepatitis B and C, more than 10 times the number of people living with HIV. Viral hepatitis was the seventh highest cause of mortality in the world in 2013, with an estimated 1.4 million deaths per year – up from less than a million in 1990. Today, only 1 in 20 people with viral hepatitis know they have it, and just 1 in 100 with the disease is being treated.”
He revealed that in the African Region, hepatitis B is highly endemic and affects an estimated 100 million people, mainly in West and Central Africa, while an estimated 19 million adults are chronically infected with hepatitis C.
Dr. Moeti said an effective vaccine is available for preventing viral hepatitis B. New oral, well tolerated medicines for people with chronic hepatitis C virus infection can achieve cure rates of over 90%.
He said effective treatment is also available for people with chronic hepatitis B infection, although for most people such treatment needs to be life long, adding that viral hepatitis is also becoming more and more a growing cause of mortality among people living with HIV.
“About 2.3 million people living with HIV are co-infected with the hepatitis C virus, and another 2.6 million are co-infected with the hepatitis B virus,” he said.
Dr. Moeti concluded that with the newly adopted framework at the WHO Regional Committee for Africa, the Region aims at stopping viral hepatitis transmission, strengthening public awareness and prevention as well as ensuring that everyone living with viral hepatitis has access to safe, affordable and effective care and treatment services.