The statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the number of people infected with Hepatitis, and die from it is shocking. The world must act immediately or face a catastrophe.
It defines hepatitis as an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.
There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These five types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
WHO and UNAIDS estimates 36.7 million people were living with HIV/AIDS globally at the end of 2015. That same year, 2.1 million people became newly infected and 1.1 million died of HIV-related course.
On the other hand, an estimated 1.45 million people died from hepatitis in 2013-up from less than a million in 1990, Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General said in a release which marked this year’s World Hepatitis Day.
“Today, only 1 in 20 people with viral hepatitis know they have it. And just 1 in 100 with the disease is being treated. It is time to mobilise a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generation to fight other communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis,” she said.
The numbers of hepatitis infections and deaths associated with it keeps growing disproportionately.
Since 2013, the number of people who died from hepatitis B-related infection has grown from 600,000 to 1.43 million despite being preventable with a vaccine.
Data on hepatitis infection appear to show the world is not doing enough to combat it.
In May, the World Health Assembly and 194 governments adopted the first-ever Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis and ways to combat it to set targets.
The longer term of this strategy is to reduce the hepatitis viral infection by 90 percent and related death by 65 percent by 2020. Quite an ambitious target.
The challenge is how to get the tools to achieve the targets.
A study by the PubMed Central in the US on the rate of the viral infection on Ghana in March 2016 concluded that it is a public health problem the country must find ways to deal with.
According to the study, the higher prevalence of hepatitis infections were attained in rural settings (13.3 %) compared to urban settings (12.2 %). Across the country, highest HBV infection prevalence rates were recorded in persons within the age group 16–39 years.
It said the burden of the disease as dictated by a high prevalence rate calls for urgent public health interventions and strategic policy directions to controlling the disease to avert any potential future explosion.
From January to June 2016, available statistics on the disease in Ghana revealed that 1,072 cases of hepatitis B were recorded. Of the 1,072 suspected cases, 121 were confirmed.
The first step toward dealing with hepatitis is for the government, pharmaceuticals and stakeholders to prioritise discussions and policies on it.
Health facilities must be resourced and equipment to areas and communities that need it most.
In addition, citizens must be encouraged to get tested and vaccinated against hepatitis B.
The urgency to combat the hepatitis virus has been more apparent than ever owing to the share numbers of infections and deaths recorded each year.
The numbers are not reducing, they are increasing disproportionately.