Nine in 10 people unaware they have hepatitis
The WHO has released a report on the state of hepatitis prevention and treatment to mark World Hepatitis Day, with an emphasis that much work is left to be done to combat the viral infection.
The organisation called for national responses towards hepatitis elimination to be accelerated and suggested that, at best, only one in 10 people were aware that they had the illness.
In further cause of concern, it released the figures that 325 million people were affected by viral hepatitis and the viral infection led to 1.34 million deaths in 2015.
The former figure includes 71 million people living with hepatitis C, despite the condition being curable with the use of direct acting antivirals (DAA). At present, however, only 7% of the previous figure have access to the treatment.
A major issue with patients gaining access to DAAs was formerly the cost. Sovaldi, the brand name for sofosbuvir, was aggressively priced by Gilead – meaning that in lower-income countries, many struggled to pay for treatment. In higher-income countries, it meant the strain was more often taken by insurers or by the government.
However, the WHO announced that it had prequalified the first generic version of Sovaldi, which significantly reduces the price to $260-280 dollars for the full course of treatment – a far cry from the original pricing in the US that worked out at $1,000 per pill. Wider availability of the DAAs could see levels of hepatitis C plummet over the course of the next decade.
“The national response towards hepatitis elimination is gaining momentum. However, at best one in ten people who are living with hepatitis know they are infected and can access treatment. This is unacceptable,” said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO’s Director of the HIV Department and Global Hepatitis Programme. “For hepatitis elimination to become a reality, countries need to accelerate their efforts and increase investments in life-saving care. There is simply no reason why many millions of people still have not been tested for hepatitis and cannot access the treatment for which they are in dire need.”
As well as increased testing, the WHO is also calling for further research into developing therapeutic options for hepatitis B. It has also called for improvement to injection safety and infection prevention, in order to reduce new cases of hepatitis.
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