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WHO report calls for unified hepatitis policies

A report commissioned by the World Health Organisation has found that only 70 per cent of countries have a control strategy for viral hepatitis

In its first major policy report Viral Hepatitis: Global Policy, commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Hepatitis Alliance has found that only 70 per cent of countries have a national strategy for the prevention and control of viral hepatitis, even though 80 per cent of governments regard hepatitis B and C as an urgent public health issue. 

The report identifies that while effective policy exists in some countries, there is substantial variation, and in many countries, a policy is not in place or it requires significant strengthening.

Commenting on the report, Charles Gore, president of the World Hepatitis Alliance, said: "In a world in which there is so much migration it is hard to see how two highly prevalent, infectious diseases can be prevented and controlled without a more unified approach. This report provides compelling evidence that while some governments are winning the battle to combat viral hepatitis within their national borders many countries have simply not begun to tackle viral hepatitis B and C, something that will in the long-term undermine the efforts of other countries."

The report has been published prior to the start of the 63rd World Health Assembly, at which the first comprehensive resolution on viral hepatitis will be discussed. The resolution calls for a broad range of action across surveillance, awareness, prevention, diagnosis, care and access to treatment. If adopted, it would represent a major step forward in addressing the needs of the one-twelfth of the global population currently infected and preventing the ongoing transmission to millions more every year.

The World Hepatitis Alliance was commissioned by the WHO to conduct this research throughout all 193 Member States, examining existing policies as well as areas in which the WHO might assist. The report collates information from 135 countries and highlights a global need to tackle viral hepatitis with a more unified approach.  

Key findings show that:
• While 82 per cent of countries report having hepatitis B and/or C surveillance measures in place, one-third of countries report that they have no prevalent data available and more than two-thirds request assistance to improve their surveillance measures
• Just 41 per cent of all governments report having funded any public awareness campaign around hepatitis B and / or hepatitis C in the past five years
• Only two-in-five people live in countries where testing is accessible to more than half of the population and only four per cent of low-income countries report that testing is accessible. Furthermore, over half of the global population lives in a country with no provision for free testing
• 41 per cent of the global population lives in a country where no government funding exists for the treatment of hepatitis B or C, with four out of five low-income countries and almost one-in-three high-income countries welcoming assistance to increase access to treatment.

The report also shows the majority of governments do not choose to tackle hepatitis alone, with almost three-quarters collaborating with non-state organisations, most prominently the WHO. Over 90 per cent of all governments report at least one area in which WHO support would further strengthen efforts to prevent and control viral hepatitis.

"The WHO commissioned this research to provide a clearer understanding of the global viral hepatitis policy landscape," explained Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO special adviser to the director general on pandemic influenza.

"The responses reveal significant variations between countries; from those that have not yet begun to tackle viral hepatitis to those with comprehensive policies to prevent and control these diseases. What emerges is the need for a more consistent, co-ordinated approach and the desire of Members States for support from the WHO in delivering this. This study provides an important background to the discussions on viral hepatitis and the adoption of a resolution at the upcoming 63rd World Health Assembly."

19th April 2010

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