WHO urges action for eliminating hepatitis in India, Southeast Asia
Each year viral hepatitis infects millions of people across the region, causing the death of around 410,000 personsindia Updated: Jul 27, 2017 20:24 IST
The World Health Organisation on Thursday said India and countries in the South-East Asia region should enhance awareness and actions to eliminate hepatitis, which kills over 400,000 people in the area every year.
On the eve of World Hepatitis Day, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Poonam Khetrapal Singh said that viral hepatitis is a major public health problem in the region and every person has a stake in controlling and eliminating it.
“Each year viral hepatitis infects millions of people across the region, causing the death of around 410,000 persons— more than HIV and malaria combined. It is also a major cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis, contributing to premature morbidity and mortality, and undermining economic growth and the push to achieve health and wellbeing for all,” she said.
She said despite hepatitis’ outsized burden, it is estimated that just one in 10 people infected with the disease know their status.
Many others remain unaware that effective treatments exist, or that preventive measures are available, from basic hygiene to the hepatitis B vaccine.
“Regrettably, stigma and discrimination against those suffering the disease remain common,” she said.
She stressed that to overcome these barriers and eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030, as per regional and global targets, “enhanced awareness and understanding of how to prevent, treat and manage the disease is vital”.
“To achieve this, health authorities across the region can increase the prominence of hepatitis-related information and advocacy. Clear, concise and accurate messaging regarding how hepatitis infection can be prevented, what its signs and symptoms are and how it can be treated is essential to empowering people to take action,” she said.
She said health authorities can expand the hepatitis- related knowledge and skills of health workers at all levels.
From nurses and midwives to doctors and technicians, a clear understanding of viral hepatitis testing, treatment and care is needed, she said.
“This can be done by enhancing medical and other health professional school curricula, creating and disseminating robust guidelines on all aspects of hepatitis testing, treatment and care and providing specialised training on outbreak management,” she pointed out.
She stressed that clear directives on avoiding unnecessary injections and using reuse prevention syringes wherever injections are required can go a long way in decreasing the hepatitis burden.
As film star and WHO South-East Asia Goodwill Ambassador for Viral Hepatitis Amitabh Bachchan demonstrates, hepatitis infection can happen to anyone at any time, and need not be accompanied by shame or guilt.
“WHO South-East Asia is committed to doing this, and to supporting all countries in the region implement comprehensive strategic action plans to tackle hepatitis. Through our collective resolve, we can enhance hepatitis-related awareness and action and eliminate the disease as a public health threat by 2030,” she said.
WHO’s South-East Asia Region comprises of Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste.