UN Urges Robust Action Against Hepatitis


prescription geneva; font-size: small;”>Marking the World Hepatitis Day on Sunday, UN urged authorities to ensure that all victims, including injecting drug users and prisoners, get the care and treatment they need.

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The Executive Director of UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, said, “All people suffering from viral hepatitis deserve access to the same level of care and treatment available in the community.”

“If interventions are to be effective, they must be grounded in respect for the human rights and right to health of all sufferers,” Mr. Fedotov added.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E, which lead to 1.4 million deaths every year.

Hepatitis C can lead to liver diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer, and infection is widespread among injecting drug users. According to UNODC’s 2013 World Drug Report, global prevalence of hepatitis C among people who inject drugs is estimated at 51 per cent.

WHO has released its first-ever country hepatitis survey ‘Global policy report on the prevention and control of viral hepatitis in WHO member States’ which indicates that the African Region has seen noncommunicable diseases become a greater public health challenge in recent years.

These findings show that only one-third of the world’s countries have national strategies for viral hepatitis, leading WHO to urge Governments to scale up measures to tackle the spread of the disease.

“Deaths from noncommunicable diseases in Africa are expected to increase by more than 20 percent in the Region by 2020,” sates the report.

The African Region is estimated to have some of the highest prevalence rates for hepatitis A globally, with 90 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa exposed to infection by the age of 10 years. The prevalence of hepatitis E in the Region varies from 2 percent in several countries to 20 percent in Central Africa.

“The prevalence of hepatitis B is estimated at 8 percent in West Africa and 5 to 7 percent in central, eastern and southern Africa. The prevalence of hepatitis C is even higher in some areas, reaching levels of up to 10 percent.”


Among the prison populations, hepatitis infection is also many, many times higher than in the general population, UNODC said, noting that a majority of people detained will return to their communities, some within months.

Mr. Fedotov said: “Many of those infected with hepatitis are unaware, and therefore may go undiagnosed and untreated, posing a risk of transmission to their families, coworkers and neighbours.”

UNODC and its UN partners promote an integrated response to preventing hepatitis and providing treatment and care. This includes comprehensive packages of interventions for injecting drug users and prisoners to stop the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and C.

Necessary measures include treating drug dependency and instituting condom programmes, as well as needle and syringe programmes.

WHO is also currently developing new hepatitis C screening, care and treatment guidelines, which will provide recommendations on seven key areas such as testing approaches; behavioural interventions (alcohol reduction); non-invasive assessment of liver fibrosis; and the selection of hepatitis C drug combinations.

This Hepatitis Day serves to promote greater understanding of hepatitis as a global public health problem and to stimulate the strengthening of preventive and control measures against infection in countries throughout the world.

WHO indicates that China has produced and licensed the first vaccine to prevent hepatitis E virus infection, although it is not yet available globally.

According to the Uganda National Demographic and SeroBehavioral Survey of 2012, estimates of prevalence of blood-borne pathogens, including hepatitis B, in different regions of Uganda range from 8 to 19 percent.

Recent data from regional blood transfusion services show that the prevalence of hepatitis B ranges from 1.44 to 3.04 percent among screened blood donors.

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