Islamabad: The World Health Organisation (WHO) and its partners commemorated World Hepatitis Day on Friday to add momentum to efforts aimed at implementing WHO’s global health sector strategy on viral hepatitis for 2016–2021 and to help member states achieve the final goal of eliminating Hepatitis. In this regard, an event will be held at Serena on August 10.
In 2015, nearly 325 million people around the world were living with chronic hepatitis infections, out of which 1.34 million people died. In reality, both hepatitis B and C are preventable while hepatitis B is manageable and hepatitis C is now curable: 95% of people with hepatitis C can be completely cured within 2-3 months.
The Eastern Mediterranean Region is one of the regions most affected by viral hepatitis in the world. Estimates indicate that currently more than 15 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C and 21 million with hepatitis B. Many people in the Region still acquire the infection in healthcare settings, through unsafe injections or inadequately screened blood transfusions.
Within the EMRO region, Pakistan and Egypt bear 80% of the disease burden and within Pakistan, almost 12 million people are suffering from hepatitis B or C. Each year, about 150,000 new cases are added. Majority of people catch this infection from healthcare settings without being aware of it. The disease is called a silent killer because many patients remain undiagnosed and untreated for many years before developing complications and death.
In 2014, WHO member states adopted a comprehensive resolution urging countries to develop and implement coordinated multisectoral national plans for preventing, diagnosing, and treating viral hepatitis. In parallel, WHO developed the first-ever Global Health Sector Strategy for Viral Hepatitis. This strategy sets out the vision of global stakeholders towards eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. At the regional level, WHO has given special priority to hepatitis B and C prevention, diagnosis and treatment. To guide implementation of the Global Health Sector Strategy for Viral Hepatitis within our region, a regional action plan for the hepatitis response has been developed.
Key challenges for an effective national response in Pakistan included: limited timely and reliable data availability on coverage and quality of essential hepatitis services; unnecessary injection practices, capacity of staff on safe injection practices and effective sharp and waste management; unregulated blood transfusions in general as well as inadequate screening; low coverage of harm reduction services for PWIDs and limited access to the new DAAs treatment in the public sector.
WHO and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) are actively engaged in strengthening the national response to Hepatitis in the country. National guidelines on Hepatitis C were developed in 2015-16. Recently, in line with the Global Health Sector Strategy (GHSS) for Viral Hepatitis 2016-2021 and the WHO EMRO Regional Action Plan 2017-2021, a National Hepatitis Strategic Framework (NHSF) has been developed, with consensus of national and the provincial stakeholders. The NHSF recognized safe injections, blood safety and harm reduction services, as key to achieve the NHSF, in addition to expansion of diagnostics and treatment services.