Monday, May 20, 2024

WHO Alerts on Surge in Deadly Viral Hepatitis: Daily Toll Reaches 3,500 Lives

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a stern warning in its latest 2024 Global Hepatitis Report, revealing a worrying rise in fatalities caused by viral hepatitis, now on par with tuberculosis as the second deadliest infectious disease globally. Annually, 1.3 million people succumb to this growing health menace.

The recent findings were presented at the World Hepatitis Summit, stressing an urgent need for action despite the availability of better diagnostic and treatment options which have become more affordable. Current data underscores a stagnation in the reach of testing and treatment services, a critical gap that threatens the WHO’s ambitious goal to eliminate the disease by 2030.

Global Trends and Alarming Statistics
The latest WHO statistics show an increase in deaths from viral hepatitis, climbing from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022, predominantly caused by hepatitis B (83%) and hepatitis C (17%). This translates to a harrowing daily death toll of 3,500 individuals worldwide.Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, voiced his concerns: “This report reveals a dire situation: despite global advancements in preventing hepatitis infections, death rates are escalating as diagnosis and treatment reach remains critically low.” He affirmed WHO’s commitment to bolster national efforts to make life-saving treatments accessible and affordable.Demographic and Diagnostic Challenges
Updated estimates identify 254 million people living with hepatitis B and 50 million with hepatitis C in 2022. A significant portion of these cases are among adults aged 30-54, with a concerning 12% found in children under 18. Men make up 58% of the cases. Though new infection rates show a slight decline from 2019, the absolute numbers remain distressingly high with 2.2 million new infections in 2022.Regional Disparities and Response
The diagnosis and treatment landscape is uneven across different regions. Only 13% of chronic hepatitis B carriers have been diagnosed, and a mere 3% have received antiviral therapy as of 2022. The situation is slightly better for hepatitis C, with 36% diagnosed and 20% receiving treatment.The WHO African Region is notably affected, with 63% of the new hepatitis B infections recorded here. The region faces additional challenges, such as a low hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination rate of only 18%. In contrast, the Western Pacific Region, accounting for nearly half of hepatitis B deaths, has a treatment coverage of 23% among diagnosed individuals.Strategic Recommendations and Financial Hurdles
The report outlines crucial steps to escalate the fight against viral hepatitis, including enhancing testing and diagnostics, transitioning from policy-making to actual implementation, and improving prevention strategies at the primary care level.However, funding remains a significant barrier, compounded by insufficient global awareness and competing health priorities. Despite the critical need for substantial investment and more equitable healthcare policies, progress is hindered by financial constraints and uneven service distribution, exacerbating disparities in access to essential health services.

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