WHO urges South-East Asia to increase access to hepatitis testing

New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday urged the South-East Asian nations to increase access to hepatitis testing, a key to scaling up hepatitis treatment and care.

The global health organisation said it will be releasing its first hepatitis testing guidelines in 2016.

“WHO is releasing its first hepatitis testing guidelines this year which provides guidance on who should be tested, and recommends simple testing strategies to help scale up hepatitis testing, treatment and care. Adequate use of the existing powerful tools and new guidelines can help prevent and treat hepatitis,” said Poonam Khetrapal, Director for WHO South-East Asia.

She said that national strategies and action plans should optimally utilise testing tools and step up efforts at all levels to address the growing threat of hepatitis.

At the World Health Assembly 2016, WHO adopted the Global Health Sector Strategy for Hepatitis that calls for eliminating hepatitis by 2030.

Hepatitis is preventable and treatable but continues to be an acute public health challenge globally and in countries of WHO South-East Asia Region.

According to WHO, viral hepatitis kills approximately 350,000 people every year in the region.

“It is responsible for more deaths than HIV and malaria together, and is second only to tuberculosis as a major cause of death among communicable diseases. Globally, and in the region the number of deaths due to viral hepatitis is increasing. There is need for immediate and urgent action to arrest the spread of hepatitis,” said Khetrapal.

She said viral hepatitis is driving rates of liver cancer and cirrhosis, and is causing premature deaths with over 100 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

“One of the main challenges to addressing hepatitis is that 95 per cent of people with chronic hepatitis do not know they are infected and less than 1 per cent have access to treatment,” said Khetrapal.

“One of the main reasons for complication due to hepatitis B is mother-to-child transmission, which can be prevented by administering the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth, followed by two to three doses in the first six months of life,” she added.

–IANS

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