U.N. calls for intensified efforts to fight hepatitis

The United Nations marked World Hepatitis Day on Monday by calling on nations to strengthen efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.

The call to action came as low- and middle-income countries rapidly expand access to treatment, according to a U.N. press release.

"For years, viral hepatitis has been largely neglected," Margaret Chan, the director of the World Health Organization, said. "But now we are beginning to see greater awareness and global momentum building to tackle it."

The WHO said that new drugs have the potential to transform the treatment of hepatitis C, resulting in cure rates of more than 90 percent. The agency is also developing new methods to combat hepatitis B, and is working with communities, healthcare professionals and donors to make those treatments more affordable.

"Increasing access to curative treatment for hepatitis B and C and expanding hepatitis B vaccination, and other prevention strategies, provide real opportunities for us to save lives and prevent suffering," Gottfried Hirnschall, the director of the HIV Department at the WHO, said.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime also said that the stigma against drug-use disorders must end. Approximately 50 percent of the 12.7 million people who have injected drugs around the world are believed to have contracted hepatitis C.