April 2016 med.news; The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged for action to wipe out hepatitis as the ongoing epidemic worsens.
In its first global report on the infection, it said the number of people dying from treatable forms of the disease, often caused by alcohol and drug abuse, is rising.
Viral hepatitis is believed to have killed 1.34 million people in 2015, an amount similar to that of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
But while those are both falling, hepatitis deaths are on the rise – increasing by 22 per cent since the turn of the century.
However, most of the 325 million people infected are completely unaware they have the virus and some lack life-saving medicines.
As a result, millions of people are at risk of a slow progression to chronic liver disease, cancer and even death, the WHO warned.
Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said: ‘Viral hepatitis is now a major public health challenge that requires an urgent response.’
The two most common forms, which are responsible for 96 per cent of deaths from the disease, are hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV).
HBV can be passed on through unprotected sex and bodily fluids. It requires life-long treatment with a drug commonly used to battle HIV.
New infections of this type of the disease are falling, thanks to a vaccine given to 84 per cent of newborns across the world.
However, just nine per cent of sufferers know they are infected, meaning many go under the radar and miss out on treatment.
HCV, usually spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person, can be cured relatively swiftly, but many patients across the world are unable to afford the medication.
Around 1.75 million people were newly infected with HCV in 2015, bringing the global total to 71 million, figures suggests.
But four fifths of those infected with this type of the disease are unaware they are suffering, the WHO warned.
Experts looking at the cases have identified unsafe healthcare procedures and injection drug use as the top causes.
Gottfried Hirnschall, director of WHO’s Department of HIV and the Global Hepatitis Programme, said the WHO was working with governments, drugmakers and diagnostics companies to improve access.
He added: ‘More countries are making hepatitis services available for people in need – a diagnostic test costs less than $1 (78p) and the cure for hepatitis C can be below $200 (£156).
‘But the data clearly highlight the urgency with which we must address the remaining gaps in testing and treatment.’