Message of the Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, on World Hepatitis Day 2017

On 28 July 2017, the world observes World Hepatitis Day. This year, the theme is: "Eliminate Hepatitis" and calls on countries and communities to accelerate progress towards achieving the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030.

Five viruses are responsible for most cases of viral hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver due to a viral infection. These are the hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), Hepatitis C virus (HCV), hepatitis D virus (HDV) and hepatitis E virus (HEV). All the viruses can cause acute hepatitis, but only HBV and HCV frequently cause chronic hepatitis which can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and primary liver cancer. The HBV and HCV cause 96% of deaths from viral hepatitis around the world. The epidemic caused by HBV affects mostly the WHO African and Western Pacific regions.

Viral hepatitis is a major global health problem and needs an urgent response. The first Global Hepatitis Report, produced by the World Health Organization in 2017, shows that there were approximately 325 million people living with chronic hepatitis B virus infection or hepatitis C virus infection at the end of 2015. About 70 million of them were in the African Region. It is estimated that the disease caused more than 136,000 deaths in the Region in 2015 alone.

Unfortunately, most people with chronic viral hepatitis are not aware of their status, and very few people are accessing testing and treatment in the African Region. The 2017 report showed that only 9% of HBV-infected people and 20% of HCV-infected people had been tested and diagnosed. Of those diagnosed with HBV infection, 8% were on treatment, while 7% of those diagnosed with HCV infection had started treatment in 2015.

It is possible to eliminate viral hepatitis. The widespread use of hepatitis B vaccine in infants has considerably reduced the incidence of new chronic HBV infections. Other measures include prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B which includes the birth dose vaccination, safe blood supplies, improving injection safety in healthcare settings, introducing comprehensive harm reduction services to prevent transmission of hepatitis B and hepatitis C among users who inject drugs and treatment of hepatitis B and C. In addition, ensuring high levels of sanitation and access to safe food and water are effective interventions for preventing and controlling epidemics of hepatitis A virus and hepatitis E virus.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls on the international community to combat hepatitis, and for inclusive approaches that promote equity and universal health coverage to ensure no one is left behind. In May 2016, WHO presented the first Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis which focuses on elimination to the World Health Assembly. In August the same year, Member States in the African Region adopted a framework for action (2016-2020) to assist countries to implement the global strategy.

On the occasion of this World Hepatitis Day, I urge all Member States to strengthen their national programmes by introducing hepatitis services through a public health approach to benefit all, and rapidly scale up testing and treatment services. I appeal to the general public to get information about viral hepatitis, seek testing for viral hepatitis and learn if they need treatment.

I call on international partners, civil society, and the private sector to support the regional hepatitis response by promoting awareness, advocating for adequate investments and working with Member States to implement the key prevention and treatment interventions.

WHO will continue to support Member States to implement the hepatitis strategy to eliminate hepatitis as a public health problem in the African region.

Working together, we can achieve the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030.