According to the Global Burden of Disease study released today, deaths caused by viral hepatitis have surpassed all chronic infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
The study illustrates that in 2016, the total deaths caused by viral hepatitis, including liver cancer, acute cases, cirrhosis, hepatitis A, E, B, C and D account for 1.34 million deaths globally, exceeding tuberculosis (1.2 million), HIV/AIDS (1 million) and malaria (719,000).
These staggering death rates occurred despite recent advances in hepatitis C medications that can cure most infections within three months and the availability of highly-effective vaccinations for hepatitis B.
"It's outrageous, but not surprising, that the Global Burden of Disease Report found that deaths related to viral hepatitis have surpassed HIV, TB and malaria" said Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance. "This is largely due to a historic lack of political prioritisation coupled with an absent global funding mechanism".
The study shows that viral hepatitis remains amongst the top ten leading global killers which include heart disease, road accidents, Alzheimer's disease, amongst others. If we are to reverse this trend, immediate action must be taken at both a regional and national level.
One such action is the scaling up of testing and diagnosis. Globally, only 5% of people living with viral hepatitis are aware of their condition, greatly increasing the chance of infecting others and missing the opportunity to access life-saving treatment. Because viral hepatitis has few noticeable symptoms, many people are either misdiagnosed or do not come forward for testing.
"World leaders and national decision-makers must heed these findings and note that with targeted funding, political prioritisation and specific interventions, hepatitis deaths can be avoided." said Raquel Peck, CEO of World Hepatitis Alliance.
Reducing hepatitis related deaths by 65% by 2030 is a key component of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Hepatitis Strategy. The Strategy, which was adopted by 194 governments, sets out a list of key targets, which, if achieved will eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030.
On 1- 3 November, hundreds of policymakers, patients, civil society and public health experts will gather at the World Hepatitis Summit, in São Paulo, Brazil to discuss how advance the elimination of viral hepatitis.
The three-day event, which is a joint initiative between WHO and the World Hepatitis Alliance, will focus on key ways to implement WHO's Global Hepatitis Strategy, with a specific focus on how to improve surveillance data, scale up testing and treatment at a national level, and support service delivery amongst vulnerable populations. The event will also encourage innovation in research and have a dedicated focus on sustainable financing for elimination, all of which are needed to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030.
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