The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday urged countries to take advantage of recent reductions in the costs of diagnosing and treating viral hepatitis and scale up investments in disease elimination to save lives.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus’ appeal came ahead of World Hepatitis Day on July 28.
WHO cited its new study, published on Friday in Lancet Global Health, showing the benefits of investing to eliminate the disease.
The study found that investing 6 billion dollars a 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.
For the vast majority of the 325 million people living with hepatitis B and/or C, accessing testing and treatment remains beyond their reach, said WHO.
A total of 58.7 billion dollars is needed to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in these 67 countries by 2030.
“Today 80 per cent of people living with hepatitis can’t get the services they need to prevent, test for and treat the disease,” said Ghebreyesus.
“On World Hepatitis Day, we call on all countries to integrate services for hepatitis into benefit packages as part of their journey towards universal health coverage.’’
By investing in diagnostic tests and medicines for treating hepatitis B and C now, countries can save lives and reduce costs related to the long-term care of cirrhosis and liver cancer that result from untreated hepatitis, said the WHO.
There are five types of viral hepatitis infections — A, B, C, D and E.
More than 95 per cent of deaths are caused by chronic hepatitis B and C infections, while hepatitis A and E rarely cause life-threatening illnesses.
Hepatitis D is an additional infection occurring in people living with hepatitis B.
WHO said some countries were acting, citing, for example, India’s offer for free testing and treatment for both hepatitis B and C as part of its universal health coverage plan.
It said the Pakistani government had been able to procure hepatitis C curative treatment at similarly low prices.