Sunday September 26, 2021

WHO stresses improved coverage of Hepatitis B birth dose vaccination

Islamabad : Emphasising the need for urgency of efforts to eliminate viral Hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030, the World Health Organization has recommended efforts to overcome low coverage of Hepatitis B birth dose vaccination—a key intervention to prevent mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B virus.

In a message released on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day here Tuesday, WHO Representative Dr. Palitha Mahipala said, “Hepatitis B birth dose vaccination is still very low and far from achieving the needed target. Such coverage hinders our efforts to achieve a Hepatitis-free future for our new generations.”

World Hepatitis Day is an occasion to reflect on the country’s commitment towards continuity of Hepatitis services and elimination targets. This year’s theme, ‘Hepatitis can’t wait,’ conveys the urgency of efforts needed to eliminate Hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

“With a person dying every 30 seconds from a Hepatitis-related illness—even in the current COVID-19 crisis—we can’t wait to act on viral Hepatitis. The country is still facing numerous challenges in Hepatitis response. It has the highest prevalence of Hepatitis C (5%) globally and has the highest number of people suffering from HCV after China. COVID-19 further challenged our response and our essential health services, including vaccination, diagnosis and care. Despite the challenges, we must not lose sight of our goals of achieving Universal Health Coverage as part of our regional ‘Health for All by All’ vision,” Dr. Palitha stated.

The WHO chief believes that the successful elimination of Hepatitis requires scaling up of five key recommended interventions. “We need to vaccinate infants against Hepatitis B, prevent mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B virus, ensure blood and injection safety, reduce harm among people who inject drugs, and implement testing with a view to treatment,” he listed.

Referring to the establishment of a national programme at the Ministry of National Health Services, Dr. Palitha said, Pakistan has led the way over the last few years in Hepatitis C testing and treatment, thanks to strong political commitment at the federal level and support of the provincial departments of health. “But still, people are still getting infected with viral hepatitis in healthcare setting, precisely where they would expect to be safe. Unsafe injection practices continue to be a driving source of Hepatitis B and C virus infections and other blood-borne diseases such as HIV,” he stated.

Dr. Palitha reiterated the WHO’s commitment to eliminating viral Hepatitis and encouraging a concerted effort among relevant programmes, civil society and their partners to renew efforts for elimination of viral Hepatitis by 2030.