On July 28, WHO in the African Region joins the global community in commemorating World Hepatitis Day 2019.
Despite the availability of diagnostic tools and effective treatment, less than one in 10 of the 71 million people with hepatitis B or C in Africa have access to testing and more than 200 000 die each year due to complications like end-stage liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The theme this year, Invest in Eliminating Hepatitis, is a timely reminder that this disease can be eliminated by 2030 with adequate resources and strong political commitment.
In June, the World Health Organization developed the first hepatitis scorecard to track progress across the Region. The scorecard shows that:
- the highest burden of hepatitis B infection in children under five years is seen in countries without hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination in combination with suboptimal coverage (under 90%) of the childhood pentavalent vaccine; and
- testing and treatment as a public health approach remains the most neglected aspect of the response.
Funding hepatitis testing and treatment services as part of universal health coverage is a cost-effective investment. WHO commends Rwanda and Uganda for providing free access to hepatitis testing and treatment.
Today, I call on Member States to invest in a public health approach towards elimination of viral hepatitis B and C in Africa. Countries should invest in hepatitis B vaccination for all newborns and integrate hepatitis interventions as part of health system strengthening. This includes building on existing laboratory capacities for HIV and TB, embedding hepatitis surveillance in the national health information system, and securing supplies of affordable medicines and diagnostics.
WHO commends Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance for supporting hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination and the Global Fund for providing hepatitis C care for people receiving HIV therapy.
We salute Egypt for the recent proposal to support hepatitis testing and treatment for one million people across 14 African countries.
I call on partners and pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of hepatitis B and C diagnostics and medicines. Together with the research community, we can collectively explore ways to simplify testing and treatment, and promote innovation towards a cure for hepatitis B and a vaccine for hepatitis C.
In addition to governments and partner efforts, civil society and people living with viral hepatitis should continue playing a central role in raising community and political awareness.
WHO will continue to support collaboration across Member States – last month the African Hepatitis Summit in Kampala, Uganda was attended by more than 600 people from 32 countries.
In the words of the “African Hepatitis Song” launched at the Summit, “let’s all unite and invest to win this war on viral hepatitis, let’s sensitize all the people and let all play our unique roles”. This is what is needed to reach the goal of elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030.