Four years ago the World Health Organization (WHO) rolled out its global strategy to eliminate hepatitis by 2030 four years ago. Known as a “silent killer” disease, hepatitis is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver.
There are different forms of hepatitis, ranging from A, B, C, D, and E. Each is caused by a different type of virus. Unfortunately, most people who have the most serious forms of the disease – particularly the B and C viruses – are unaware of infection. This allows the infection to spread unchecked, leading to serious damage to the liver. This means that the organ can’t carry out its main function which is to filter blood coming in from the digestive system before directing it to the rest of the body, and detoxification.
In 2015 the WHO estimated that 328 million people globally were living with hepatitis B and C. In the same year there were 1.34 million deaths from viral hepatitis. That’s higher than deaths caused by AIDS and comparable to TB fatalities. It’s the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, hepatitis B is the most common form of the illness. Last year it was reported that 6.1% of the population was infected.
Hepatitis B is spread through infected body fluids. This can either be through sex with an infected partner, at birth from an infected mother to her baby or through direct contact with an infected person’s open wounds or blood. There is also risk from sharing syringes, razors or toothbrushes with infected persons. The key strategy for managing hepatitis B is prevention by being vaccinated. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have made vaccination and post-infection therapy available. But the number of those infected annually and dying from viral hepatitis remains high.
The WHO’s 2030 deadline is feasible. But it may not be achieved because of the prevailing low vaccination coverage in sub-Saharan Africa coupled with limited healthcare budgets that are unable to make diagnostics and treatment available to all.