Health leaders from around the world will gather with government officials in Egypt tomorrow for World Hepatitis Day, an event designed by the World Health Organization to raise awareness about hepatitis.
This year’s event takes place in a country that has one of the world’s highest hepatitis burdens. It is estimated that 10% of the Egyptian population between 15 and 59 years is chronically infected with hepatitis C.
Between 2007 and 2014, more than 350 000 people with hepatitis C have been treated in Egypt. Since the introduction of newer, more effective medicines in 2014, the number of people being treated continues to increase. Today, 32 dedicated treatment centers are providing treatment at the Government’s expense.
WHO is helping officials in Egypt develop national blood safety standards and has selected it as one of three pilot countries for its new Global Injection Safety Initiative, which means WHO officials will provide support over the next three years to reduce unnecessary injections and help transition to the exclusive use of syringes that can only be used once.
But the World Hepatitis Day event in Egypt is only a part of a global strategy to tackle hepatitis.
As part of the day’s events, WHO officials plan to highlight the urgent need for all countries to enhance action to prevent viral hepatitis infection and to ensure that people who have been infected are diagnosed and offered treatment.
This year, the Organization is focusing particularly on hepatitis B and C, which together cause approximately 80% of all liver cancer deaths and kill close to 1.4 million people every year.
Know the Risks
WHO is alerting people to the risks of contracting hepatitis from unsafe blood, unsafe injections, and sharing drug-injection equipment. Some 11 million people who inject drugs have hepatitis B or C infection.
The Organization emphasizes the need for all health services to reduce risks by using only sterile equipment for injections and other medical procedures, to test all donated blood and blood components for hepatitis B and C (as well as HIV and syphilis) and to promote the use of the hepatitis B vaccine. Safer sex practices, including minimizing the number of partners and using barrier protective measures (condoms), also protect against transmission.
Demand Safe Injections
Approximately, 2 million people a year contract hepatitis from unsafe injections. These infections can be averted through the use of sterile syringes that are specifically designed to prevent reuse, according to a press release on the day’s events, issued by WHO.
Eliminating unnecessary injections is also an effective strategy to protect against hepatitis transmission, according to WHO officials. There are 16 billion injections administered every year. Around 5% of these injections are for immunization, a further 5% for procedures like blood transfusions and injectable contraceptives, and the remaining 90% to administer medicines. For many diseases, injections are not the first recommended course of treatment and oral medications could be used.
As part of the World Hepatitis Day event, WHO officials are also urging vaccinating all children against hepatitis B infection, from which approximately 780 000 people die each year. WHO also recommends vaccinating adults who are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis B.
Get Tested, Seek Treatment
Earlier this year, WHO issued new guidelines for treatment of hepatitis B infection. These recommend using simple non-invasive tests to assess the stage of liver disease to help identify who needs treatment. WHO also calls for prioritizing treatment for those with cirrhosis – the most advanced stage of liver disease and for the use of two safe and highly effective medicines, tenofovir or entecavir. Continued monitoring using simple tests is important to assess whether treatment is working, and if it can be stopped.
In 2014, WHO issued guidance for testing and treatment of hepatitis C infection. WHO recommends providing testing for people considered at high risk of infection and ensuring treatment for those who have the virus with several effective medicines, including new regimens that use only oral medicines. WHO will update recommendations on drug treatments periodically as new antiviral medicines become available and as new evidence emerges.
Learn more about World Hepatitis Day in the video below.