Hepatitis, cross river
The image of a human liver and intestines next to a superimposed image of the Hepatitis Virus.

Experts say offering easy-to-navigate services at local health facilities is key to successfully ending hepatitis infections currently afflicting a number of people across the world.

The global and local experts held that to eliminate hepatitis and achieve the World Health Organisation’s ambitious targets of eliminating hepatitis among the member countries by 2030, simplified primary care services for viral hepatitis should ensure all pregnant women living with chronic hepatitis B have access to treatment, while their infants also have access to hepatitis B birth vaccines to prevent infection.

The world health body is worried that despite efforts and years put into treatment, the current data reveals that the number of people accessing hepatitis C cure is slowing.

It noted that Hepatitis C can be prevented by adequately screening all donated blood, ensuring safe injection practices in health care settings, at home and especially, among people who inject drugs.

Speaking on the theme of the 2023 World Hepatitis Day, ‘We’re not waiting,’ the President, World Hepatitis Alliance, Danjuma Adda, said every year, over a million lives are lost to hepatitis, yet the disease is preventable.

He said, “The theme of this year’s WHD, ‘We’re not waiting’, is a call to accelerate efforts towards elimination of viral hepatitis and the urgent need for testing and treatment for the people who need it.

“Individuals and communities around the world are making change happen in their own lives and in the world around them. We celebrate them while demanding more action. We are not waiting for change; we are fighting to make it happen.”

A recent survey from the World Hepatitis Alliance found that nearly half (42%) of people globally are unaware that one of the leading causes of liver cancer is viral hepatitis.

It revealed that nearly three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed are aware that hepatitis causes liver cancer, meaning that they are more likely to get tested, whereas over four-fifth (82%) say they are more likely to get vaccinated.

The survey noted that over 350 million people live with hepatitis B or C globally, causing over 1.1 million lives to be lost each year.

It further stated that by 2040, deaths from viral hepatitis are expected to exceed mortality from Human Immunodeficiency Virus, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

The Managing Director, Centre for Disease Analysis said, “Hepatitis B and C infections are silent epidemics. These viral infections are cancer-causing but since infected individuals don’t show any symptoms until it is too late, most infections go unnoticed.

“It is important for all of us to recognise the high risk of cancer associated with hepatitis B and C infection and get patients linked to care. Treatment can reduce the risk of cancer by 85% or more.”

A new research presented at the EASL Congress by the Centre for Disease Analysis Foundation, found that hepatitis B virus (HBV) and C (HCV) viruses are highly oncogenic and capable of causing cancers in multiple organs and sites.

The report reveals that hepatitis B and C-infected individuals have a similar or significantly higher risk of developing cancer than someone who actively smokes one pack of cigarettes per day.

It recommends that HBV and HCV should be considered cancer-causing infections and international guidelines should be reconsidered accordingly.

According to WHO, “One life, one liver. You’ve only got one life, and you have only got one liver. Hepatitis can devastate both. Your liver silently performs over 500 vital functions every single day to keep you alive. But viral hepatitis infection is also silent, with symptoms only appearing once the disease is advanced.

“Although there are many different types of hepatitis viruses (A to E), hepatitis B and C are the most concerning and cause nearly 8000 new infections every day, which are mostly going undetected. The result is that there are over one million hepatitis-related deaths every single year, and one new chronic infection every 10 seconds.

And that’s why liver health is fundamental to human health. So many hepatitis deaths could be prevented because there are vaccines and effective treatments for hepatitis B and even a cure for hepatitis C. You can protect yourself and your loved ones.

WHO urges people to speak to their local healthcare provider to find out how best to protect themselves from hepatitis.

“Globally, there is a huge number of undiagnosed and untreated people living with hepatitis. This must change. Hepatitis infection is silent and liver health awareness is low. Most symptoms only appear once the disease is advanced, resulting in a huge volume of undiagnosed people living with hepatitis.

“Even when hepatitis is diagnosed, the number of people who go on to receive treatment is incredibly low. Most people discover they have hepatitis B or C after many years of silent infection, and only when they develop into serious liver disease or cancer.

“Even after diagnosis, the level of treatment and care for people living with hepatitis is astonishingly poor. Only 10% of people with chronic hepatitis B are diagnosed. Only 22% of those receive treatment – that’s just 2% of the total global health burden.

“Only 21% of people with hepatitis C are diagnosed. 62% of those diagnosed receive treatment to cure them – just 13% of the total global health burden.”