Viral hepatitis infections claim 3,500 lives every day: WHO

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A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the alarm regarding the global burden of viral hepatitis infections.

Viral hepatitis, a communicable disease that can cause liver inflammation, damage and cancer, has emerged as the second leading infectious cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2024 Global Hepatitis Report.

The report notes that the number of deaths caused by this deadly infection in 187 countries has increased from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022. Of these, 83% of deaths were caused by hepatitis B and 17% by hepatitis C. Every day, 3,500 people die worldwide due to hepatitis B and C infections.

Among other startling statistics from the report, India is among the top 10 countries that contribute to two-thirds of the global hepatitis B and hepatitis C case burden. With a total of 3.5 million cases, India accounted for 11, 6% of the total global disease burden in 2022.

Visit a doctor if you notice any signs of hepatitis. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Global Hepatitis Report Paints a Worrying Picture: WHO Director-General

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the report paints a “worrying picture”. “Despite global progress in preventing hepatitis infections, deaths are rising because too few people with hepatitis are being diagnosed and treated,” he said in a statement.

In addition to India, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation and Vietnam collectively bear almost two-thirds of the global burden of hepatitis B and C. Although the WHO’s viral hepatitis elimination target is 2030 , hopes to achieve universal access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment in these ten countries by 2026.

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The challenge lies in how many people remain undiagnosed in many countries. Even after hepatitis is diagnosed, the number of people receiving treatment remains incredibly low. Despite the availability of affordable medicines, political, programmatic and access barriers continue to impede the journey towards a world free of viral hepatitis.

Woman shows liver
Hepatitis impairs liver function. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is viral hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, an important metabolic organ responsible for detoxifying harmful toxins, absorbing vital nutrients, filtering blood for healthy circulation, producing bile for digestion, and more. If the liver malfunctions, it will have far-reaching side effects on the daily functioning of the body. Although excessive intake of alcohol, toxins, certain medications, and medical conditions can cause hepatitis, it is primarily the result of a virus.

Different types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E and G are contracted for different reasons. The susceptibility of contracting the virus, the vaccine, diagnosis and treatment also differ from each other.

Read too: 8 FAQs You Should Know About Hepatitis

WHO recommendations to reduce the spread of hepatitis

The WHO has outlined an action-oriented plan to end the viral hepatitis epidemic by 2030. These measures include expanding access to testing and diagnostics, changing policies to implement equitable treatment, and strengthening prevention efforts in primary care. The plan is also to simplify service delivery, optimize regulation and product supply, and use improved data for action.

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Funding for viral hepatitis also remains a pressing challenge, according to the WHO. This is attributed to limited awareness of cost-saving interventions and tools, as well as competing priorities on global health agendas.

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