The medical and health communities have made great strides in developing hepatitis treatments and making these available across the world. However, viral hepatitis continues to affect over 300 million people and to cause 1.4 million deaths each year, thus begging the question — are we doing enough to combat hepatitis?
The World Health Organization (WHO) confronts this question with an official response: the first ever publication outlining global guidelines for viral hepatitis released in February 2017 at the 26th Conference of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver in Shanghai, China.
Testing remains to be one of the most important and basic means to prevent and manage hepatitis. This is especially true because many people with hepatitis may not exhibit any symptoms. Affected individuals may unknowingly live with the virus for decades, and later suffer from its long-term effects. For example, up to 85 percent of those with hepatitis C develop serious infections that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
One of the goals in introducing the new guidelines is to simplify the current approaches to hepatitis testing — from determining the people who need to get tested, to identifying testing centers, and to connecting affected people with suitable treatment resources.
“Improving access to hepatitis testing is critical to increasing access to life-saving treatments,” said Dr. Marc Bulterys in WHO’s press release announcing the newly issued guidelines. Bulterys noted that testing is particularly important in low- and middle-income countries where many people are not aware that they are infected and have limited access to treatment.
The WHO guidelines encourage rapid diagnostic testing for high-risk groups such as: those who have HIV, those who inject drugs, and children born from mothers with hepatitis. The guidelines also push for rapid testing of hard-to-reach populations, community health workers, and incarcerated people.
Ultimately, the guidelines serve as a blueprint for countries to strengthen current hepatitis testing programs, encourage early detection, and improve chances of survival. Clearly, WHO’s tremendous work and efforts align with ADRLF’s message to: SCREEN. Vaccinate. Don’t Hesitate!
Learn more about WHO’s Guidelines here
Identify early signs of hepatitis here