The World Health Organisations (WHO) is to use the 2015 World Hepatitis Day, slated for July 28 to highlight the urgent need for countries to enhance action aimed at preventing viral hepatitis infection.
A statement issued by Christian Lindmeier, WHO Communications Officer and copied to the Ghana News Agency on Monday, urged nations “to ensure that people who have been infected are diagnosed and offered treatment”.
It said the Organization is currently focusing on hepatitis B and C, which together cause approximately 80 per cent of all liver cancer deaths and kill close to 1.4 million people every year.
The statement said WHO is alerting people to the risks of contracting hepatitis from unsafe blood, unsafe injections, and sharing drug-injection equipment.
It said some 11 million people, who inject drugs had hepatitis B or C infection, adding that, children born to mothers with hepatitis B or C and sex partners of people with hepatitis were also at risk of becoming infected.
“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,” it said.
“Safer sex practices, including minimizing the number of partners and using barrier protective measures (condoms), also protect against transmission,” the statement added.
It said approximately, two million people a year contract hepatitis from unsafe injections.
The statement said these infections could be averted through the use of sterile syringes that were specifically designed to prevent reuse.
It said eliminating unnecessary injections was also an effective strategy to protect people against the hepatitis transmission; adding that, there were 16 billion injections administered every year.
It said around five per cent of these injections were for immunization, a further five per cent for procedures like blood transfusions and injectable contraceptives, and the remaining 90 per cent to administer medicines.
The statement said for many diseases, injections are not the first recommended course of treatment and oral medications could be used.
It said WHO recommends vaccinating all children against hepatitis B infection, from which approximately 780 000 people die each year.
The statement said a safe and effective vaccine could protect from hepatitis B infection for life.
“Ideally, the vaccine should be given as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the vaccine series,” it said.
It said the WHO also recommends vaccinating adults who are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis B.
It explained that these include people who frequently require blood or blood products (for example dialysis patients), health-care workers, people who inject drugs, household and sexual contacts of people with chronic hepatitis B, and people with multiple sexual partners.
It said since 1982, over one billion doses of hepatitis B vaccine had been used worldwide and millions of future deaths from liver cancer and cirrhosis have been prevented.
It said in a number of countries where around one in 10 children used to become chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus, vaccination had reduced the rate of chronic infection to less than one in 100 among immunized children.
The statement said to date, there is no available vaccine against hepatitis C but medicines were now available that could cure most people with hepatitis C and control hepatitis B infection.
It said people who receive these medicines were much less likely to die from liver cancer and cirrhosis and much less likely to transmit the virus to others.
It said the WHO, therefore, urges people who think they might have been exposed to hepatitis to get tested so they can find out whether they need treatment to improve their own health and reduce the risk of transmission.
It recounted that earlier this year, WHO issued new guidelines for treatment of hepatitis B infection, stating that, 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.
It said the WHO recommends providing testing for people considered at high risk of infection and ensuring treatment for those who had the virus with several effective medicines, including new regimens that use only oral medicines.
It said the WHO would update recommendations on drug treatments periodically as new antiviral medicines become available, adding that, this year, WHO’s flagship event takes place in Egypt, a country with one of the world’s highest hepatitis burdens.
The statement said it is estimated that 10 per cent of the population between 15 and 59 years is chronically infected with hepatitis C; adding that, between 2007 and 2014, more than 350 000 people with hepatitis C had been treated.
It said since the introduction of newer, more effective medicines in 2014, the number of people being treated continues to increase.
“Today, 32 dedicated treatment centres are providing treatment at the Government’s expense. Egypt is also highlighting hepatitis prevention,” it said.
The statement said the WHO is helping the country to develop national blood safety standards and had selected Egypt as one of three pilot countries for its new Global Injection Safety Initiative.
It said the WHO would provide support over the next three years to reduce unnecessary injections and help transition to the exclusive use of syringes that could only be used once.
It said in September this year, countries would have the opportunity to share best practice at the first-ever World Hepatitis Summit to be held in Glasgow, Scotland.
The statement said the summit, which is co-sponsored by WHO, the Scottish Government and the World Hepatitis Alliance, aims to raise the global profile of viral hepatitis, to create a platform for exchange of country experiences and to focus on working with countries to develop national action plans.
It said in addition to hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A and E viruses also cause viral hepatitis.
It said these two viruses are primarily transmitted through contact with contaminated food and water and are responsible for less than one per cent of all hepatitis-related deaths.