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May 20, 2024
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WHO: Hepatitis Kills 3,500 Daily

According to the World Health Organization 2024 Global Hepatitis Report, more people are dying from viral hepatitis. It’s now the second top cause of death from infection worldwide, with 1.3 million deaths a year, same as tuberculosis, another major killer.

The report, out at the World Hepatitis Summit, shows even though we have better ways to find and treat the disease, and even though prices for treatments have gone down, not enough people are getting tested or treated. Still, hitting the WHO goal to get rid of this disease by 2030 is possible, but we need to act fast.

New figures from 187 countries show that deaths from viral hepatitis went up from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022. Out of these, 83% were from hepatitis B, and 17% from hepatitis C. That means every day, 3500 people die worldwide because of hepatitis B and C infections.

“This report paints a troubling picture: despite progress globally in preventing hepatitis infections, deaths are rising because far too few people with hepatitis are being diagnosed and treated,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “WHO is committed to supporting countries to use all the tools at their disposal – at access prices – to save lives and turn this trend around.”

New WHO estimate say that 254 million people had hepatitis B and 50 million had hepatitis C in 2022. Half of those with long-term hepatitis B and C infections are people aged 30–54 years, with 12% being children under 18. Men make up 58% of all cases.

New estimate on how many people are getting infected show a slight drop compared to 2019, but the number of new viral hepatitis infections is still high. In 2022, there were 2.2 million new infections, down from 2.5 million in 2019.

These include 1.2 million new hepatitis B infections and nearly 1 million new hepatitis C infections. Each day, more than 6000 people get newly infected with viral hepatitis.

The updated estimate come from better data from national surveys. They also show that steps such as vaccines and safe injections, as well as more hepatitis C treatments, have helped bring down the number of new infections.

Global progress and gaps in diagnosis and treatment

Across all regions, only 13% of people living with chronic hepatitis B infection had been diagnosed and approximately 3% (7 million) had received antiviral therapy at the end of 2022. Regarding hepatitis C, 36% had been diagnosed and 20% (12.5 million) had received curative treatment.

These results fall well below the global targets to treat 80% of people living with chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C by 2030. However, they do indicate slight but consistent improvement in diagnosis and treatment coverage since the last reported estimates in 2019. Specifically, hepatitis B diagnosis increased from 10% to 13% and treatment from 2% to 3%, and hepatitis C diagnosis from 21% to 36% and treatment from 13% to 20%.

The burden of viral hepatitis varies regionally. The WHO African Region bears 63% of new hepatitis B infections, yet despite this burden, only 18% of newborns in the region receive the hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination. In the Western Pacific Region, which accounts for 47% of hepatitis B deaths, treatment coverage stands at 23% among people diagnosed, which is far too low to reduce mortality.

Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Russian Federation and Viet Nam, collectively shoulder nearly two-thirds of the global burden of hepatitis B and C. Achieving universal access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in these ten countries by 2025, alongside intensified efforts in the African Region, is essential to get the global response back on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Disparities in pricing and service delivery

Even though cheap generic drugs for viral hepatitis are out there, many countries still buy them at higher prices.

Prices vary a lot from one WHO area to another, and some countries pay more than the standard cost for drugs that are no longer under patent or are part of special pricing deals. For instance, even though the hepatitis B drug tenofovir is off patent and can be bought for a global low price of US$2.4 per month, only 7 out of 26 countries that shared their data got it for this cheap or cheaper.

Likewise, a 12-week course of the hepatitis C treatment combo sofosbuvir/daclatasvir has a global low price tag of US$60, but only 4 out of 24 countries that gave info paid this amount or less.

Help and care are still highly centralized, and many who need help still have to pay for viral hepatitis care themselves.

Only 60% of the countries that shared info offer viral hepatitis tests and treatments for free or at a reduced cost in the public health system. This issue is even bigger in Africa, where only about one third of the countries that reported provide these services for free.

Source: WHO

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