SWITZERLAND—The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its 2024 Global Hepatitis Report at the World Hepatitis Summit, highlighting a disturbing pattern of rising viral hepatitis mortality.

Despite advances in diagnostic and treatment techniques, as well as lower product costs, the report shows that testing and treatment coverage rates have plateaued.

However, it claims that with quick intervention, the WHO eradication objective of 2030 is still achievable.

According to new statistics from 187 countries, the anticipated number of deaths from viral hepatitis will increase from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million by 2022.

Notably, hepatitis B was responsible for 83% of all deaths, followed by hepatitis C at 17%. Every day, roughly 3500 people die from hepatitis B and C infections around the world.

Updated WHO predictions for 2022 show that 254 million people have hepatitis B and 50 million have hepatitis C.

Chronic hepatitis is substantially less common among people aged 30-54, with 12% afflicting children under the age of 18, with men make about 58% of all cases.

Although new infections have decreased slightly compared to 2019, the overall incidence of viral hepatitis remains high.

In 2022, there were 2.2 million new infections, with 1.2 million from hepatitis B and approximately 1 million from hepatitis C. Every day, nearly 6,000 people worldwide get viral hepatitis.

The report attributes the increased estimates to improved data from national prevalence surveys, indicating a favorable impact from prevention measures such as immunization and safe injections, as well as the growth of hepatitis C treatment options.

However, coverage falls short of worldwide standards, with only 13% of those with chronic hepatitis B and 36% with hepatitis C being diagnosed.

Treatment rates are significantly lower, with only 3% receiving antiviral therapy for hepatitis B and 20% obtaining curative treatment for hepatitis C by the year 2022.

The burden of viral hepatitis varies by geography, with the WHO African Region accounting for 63% of new hepatitis B infections, yet only 18% of infants in the region receive the hepatitis B birth-dose immunization.

Inadequate treatment coverage persists, particularly in regions like the Western Pacific, where only 23% of diagnosed individuals receive treatment for hepatitis B.

Ten countries, including Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Russian Federation and Viet Nam, account for  nearly two-thirds of the global burden of hepatitis B and C.

The report emphasizes the importance of ensuring universal access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in these countries by 2025, as well as increased efforts in the African region.

Despite the availability of affordable generic viral hepatitis medications, many countries are unable to obtain them at a reduced cost.

Pricing discrepancies continue, limiting access to treatment, particularly in areas where financial protection is absent.

Speaking during the summit, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized the growing number of deaths caused by viral hepatitis, emphasizing the importance of improved diagnosis and treatment.

He underlined WHO’s commitment to helping countries save lives and reverse this trend.

The report proposes a number of strategies for combating viral hepatitis, including increasing access to testing and treatment, enhancing primary care prevention initiatives, optimizing product regulation and supply, and mobilizing innovative finance.

It also underlines the significance of leveraging improved data for action, involving impacted communities and civil society, and supporting research for better diagnostics and potential therapies for hepatitis B.

However, financing for viral hepatitis remains low at both the global and national levels, owing to a lack of understanding of cost-effective therapies and competing priorities on global health agendas.

The report intends to help countries address these obstacles and gain access to affordable methods for effectively combating viral hepatitis.

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