WHO asks for action on hepatitis threat

The World Health Organization urged governments around the world on Wednesday to take action against the five types of hepatitis.

The WHO asked that the governments take action on World Hepatitis Day on July 28. In preparation for the event, the WHO has released its first ever country hepatitis survey of 126 countries. The report looked at gaps and successes in the primary areas needed to prevent and control hepatitis: awareness, evidence-based data for action, screening, care and treatment and prevention of transmission.

"Many of the measures needed to prevent the spread of viral hepatitis disease can be put in place right now, and doing so will offset the heavy economic costs of treating and hospitalizing patients in future," Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases at WHO, said. "The findings underline the important work that is being done by governments to halt hepatitis through the implementation of WHO recommended policies and actions."

The findings showed that 37 percent of the countries surveyed have national strategies for viral hepatitis and that more work will be needed in treating the virus. The survey also showed that 82 percent of the countries have created hepatitis surveillance programs, but only half of these include monitoring of chronic hepatitis B and C.

The WHO is currently working on new hepatitis C screening, care and treatment guidelines. These new guidelines will go over important areas like testing approaches, behavioral interventions, non-invasive assessment of liver fibrosis and the selection of hepatitis C drug combinations.

"New, more effective medicines to prevent the progression of chronic hepatitis B and C are in the pipeline," Dr. Stefan Wiktor, team leader of WHO's Global Hepatitis Program, said. "However, these will be expensive and therapy will require monitoring with sophisticated laboratory tests. To cure and reduce the spread of these viruses, medicines must become more accessible."