New WHO report: deaths from viral hepatitis on the rise worldwide

News — 09.04.2024

On the occasion of the World Hepatitis Summit, which took place in Lisbon in April, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report with the latest figures on viral hepatitis worldwide. According to the report, the number of deaths from viral hepatitis rose from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022. Only Covid-19 was responsible for more deaths in 2022. This makes viral hepatitis, together with tuberculosis, one of the deadliest infectious diseases of all.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is aiming to achieve elimination targets for hepatitis B and C by 2030. These viruses, which can cause liver inflammation and subsequently liver cirrhosis and cancer as well as other diseases, are jointly responsible for 1.3 million deaths worldwide. Thanks to a vaccination (against hepatitis B) and new therapies, these dangerous infectious diseases could be eliminated. However, this goal can only be achieved if action is taken now. The main reason for the rising number of cases is that too few people are diagnosed and have access to treatment.

Also in Switzerland there are gaps in care. An estimated one third of people with chronic hepatitis B or C are undiagnosed. And there is also a need for action among particularly affected population groups, although recommendations for improving testing and treatment rates have been in place for many years. For example, a recent study shows that in primary care in the addiction sector, an estimated 43 per cent of people with chronic hepatitis C have not been diagnosed. Over half of these patients have not been treated. (Wissel et al. 2024)

In Switzerland, the tools are in place to effectively combat viral hepatitis. There are vaccination recommendations for hepatitis B for all newborns. Hepatitis C is now easily curable. In addition, the new national programme ‘Stop HIV, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and sexually transmitted infections NAPS’ has been in force since the beginning of 2024. However, it is still unclear how this programme will be implemented and how the measures will be financed. There is also a lack of a robust monitoring system.

Public funding for hepatitis projects is needed, particularly in key groups, low-threshold access to tests and therapies must be guaranteed and better surveillance data is urgently needed in order to recognise gaps and progress in the fight against viral hepatitis.

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