WORLD – Today, WHO joins the global community in celebrating World Hepatitis Day with the theme “Hepatitis can’t wait”, calling on all countries to work together to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

Over 354 million people worldwide live with chronic hepatitis; over 8000 new infections of hepatitis B and C occur every day, and more than one million deaths from advanced liver disease and liver cancer occur every year.

WHO recently launched first-ever global guidance for countries seeking to validate elimination of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and/or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection as a public health problem.

The 2021 Global report on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, took stock of the progress achieved in the last 5 years, the setbacks caused by the pandemic, and the lessons learned for the coming decade.

While progress has been made in the hepatitis response, there is still a long way to go. In far too many countries, priority interventions remain inaccessible to the populations most severely affected or at higher risk.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impeded the development and delivery of core services that tackle viral hepatitis and other infectious diseases and NCDs.

During this incredibly challenging year, we have witnessed the ability of health and community systems to adapt to continue to reach people in need.

The lessons learned from the innovations developed during the pandemic response can inform core service delivery programming, as part of the overall effort to reduce persisting inequalities in access to health care and achieve universal health coverage.

In Saudi Arabia, viral hepatitis was on course towards being eliminated until the pandemic took center stage.

This prompted the middle eastern kingdom to shift its focus from the silent killer and take it to ensuring the pandemic was eradicated.

Hepatitis fits the description because 95 percent of infected individuals worldwide are unaware of their infection and in most cases people are asymptomatic. It nevertheless remains the world’s seventh-leading cause of death.

The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.

While all cause liver disease, the five strains differ in important ways, including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods.

In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.

An estimated 325 million people worldwide live with hep-B or C and, for most, testing and treatment remains beyond reach.

In 2015, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths worldwide, mostly from hep-B infection, which is higher than the number of global deaths caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Some types of hepatitis are preventable through vaccination. According to the WHO, an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, diagnostic tests, medicines and education campaigns.

With COVID-19 vaccination efforts continuing apace and the pandemic beginning to subside in many parts of the developed world, the fight against viral hepatitis is once again high on Saudi Arabia’s public health agenda.

“As Saudi Arabia gains control over COVID-19, it’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force to meet the WHO target of elimination by 2030 in our country,” said Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail, a consultant transplant hepatologist.