400m live with hep­ati­tis But don’t know

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News - Health Mat­ters Ba­her Ka­mal

WITH some 400 mil­lion peo­ple around the world in­fected with hep­ati­tis B or C, mostly with­out be­ing aware, the United Na­tions top health agency en­cour­ages coun­tries to boost test­ing and ac­cess to ser­vices and medicines for peo­ple in need to com­bat the “ig­nored per­ils” of this dis­ease.

A stag­ger­ing 95 per­cent of peo­ple in­fected with hep­ati­tis B or C do not know they are in­fected, of­ten liv­ing with­out symp­toms for many years, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO) warns. And over 90 per­cent of peo­ple with hep­ati­tis C can be com­pletely cured within three to six months.

“The world has ig­nored hep­ati­tis at its peril,” said Dr Mar­garet Chan, WHO’s di­rec­tor gen­eral, ahead of the World Hep­ati­tis Day, which is ob­served an­nu­ally on 28 July.

“It is time to mo­bilise a global re­sponse to hep­ati­tis on the scale sim­i­lar to that gen­er­ated to fight other com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases like HIV AIDS and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis,” she said.

The num­ber grows by six to 10 mil­lion a year, WHO re­ported, while an­nounc­ing plans to re­lease new test­ing guide­lines for both hep­ati­tis B and C.

With this, among other ac­tions, the Geneva-based World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion at­tempts “to en­cour­age test­ing and reach the 95 per­cent of peo­ple who are not aware they are in­fected with the dis­ease.”

The theme of this year’s World Hep­ati­tis Day was Know Hep­ati­tis; Act Now.

To­gether with its part­ner, So­cial En­trepreneur­ship for Sex­ual Health, WHO on July 25 said it re­cently launched #HepTestCon­test, a global con­test to show how the test­ing guide­lines could trans­late into real ac­tion on the ground.

“We needed ex­am­ples of in­no­va­tions and best prac­tices to help guide and in­spire oth­ers,” said Philippa Easter­brook from the WHO Global Hep­ati­tis Pro­gramme, who co-led the project.

The con­test re­ceived 64 con­tri­bu­tions from 27 coun­tries, WHO said.

Five fi­nal­ists were se­lected by a panel of ex­perts in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from WHO, the World Hep­ati­tis Al­liance and Médecins sans Fron­tières, who re­viewed the test­ing mod­els for in­no­va­tion, ef­fec­tive­ness, and plans for sus­tain­abil­ity.

In ad­di­tion to na­tional test­ing cam­paigns, ap­proaches in­cluded test­ing in pris­ons, test­ing in the work­place and hos­pi­tal emer­gency rooms, in­te­grated HIV-hep­ati­tis test­ing, as well as the use of in­ter­net, so­cial me­dia, and elec­tronic med­i­cal records to flag higher-risk pa­tients for test­ing in pri­mary care.

“From pris­ons in Aus­tralia, use of an in­ter­net­based risk self-as­sess­ment tool in the Nether­lands, com­mu­nity test­ing camps for drug users in In­dia, to test­ing in pri­mary care in Mon­go­lia we learned some great lessons about how to build aware­ness of this hid­den dis­ease, im­prove test­ing rates and link those in­fected to treat­ment and care,” Philippa Easter­brook added.

An im­por­tant fea­ture of the ap­proach was the strong com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and sup­port as well as strate­gic part­ner­ships to lever­age re­duc­tions in the price of treat­ments, WHO said.

“Bring­ing to­gether phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, gov­ern­ment, re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions and com­mu­ni­ties to help ne­go­ti­ate price re­duc­tions make hep­ati­tis treat­ments more af­ford­able,” said Easter­brook.

“The con­test demon­strated a range of pos­si­bil­i­ties. It showed that if we can de­velop ac­cept­able test­ing ap­proaches to suit dif­fer­ent con­texts and cul­tures, then we can in­crease ef­fec­tive hep­ati­tis test­ing in more coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties,” she added.

In May of this year, the World Health Assem­bly —WHO’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing body — called for treat­ing eight mil­lion peo­ple for hep­ati­tis B or C by 2020, to re­duce new vi­ral hep­ati­tis in­fec­tions by 90 per­cent, and to de­crease the num­ber of deaths by 65 per­cent in 2030, as com­pared with 2016. These tar­gets are part of the first ever Global Health Sec­tor Strat­egy on vi­ral hep­ati­tis. — IPS

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