Hepatitis summit begins “wake-up call” on killer disease

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The UN health agency says access to diagnosis and treatment for hepatitis remains a key challenge in many parts of the world. Photo: WHO

A new summit on hepatitis that’s been billed as a global “wake-up call” has begun in a bid to tackle the more than 1.4 million lives lost to the disease every year, UN health experts said Wednesday.

More than 60 countries are taking part in the World Hepatitis Summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

It’s the first high-level meeting of its kind to focus solely on eradicating the disease, which is a global health threat that affects low and middle-income countries most.

Daniel Johnson has more.

The first World Hepatitis Summit in Glasgow seeks to give a shot in the arm to the global fight against a major public health threat.

With five main virus types, hepatitis has a planetary reach, killing more than 1.4 million people every year.

The disease affects poor countries the most, with hepatitis B and C together causing around 80 per cent of all liver cancer deaths.

Yet most people living with chronic viral hepatitis are unaware of their infection, according to the World Health Organization.

It’s described the three-day summit in the Scottish city as a global “wake-up call” to combat the disease.

In sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia between up to 10 per cent of the population is chronically infected with hepatitis B.

And there are also high rates of hepatitis B infection in the Amazon, along with the southern parts of eastern and central Europe.

Hepatitis C is found worldwide, and WHO says that infection rates are high in Africa and Central and East Asia.

The UN health agency, along with UN partner the World Hepatitis Alliance want more countries to develop better strategies against the disease.

That involves improving diagnosis and treatment, WHO says, as a safe and effective vaccine exists for hepatitis B as do medicines to cure people with hepatitis C.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1’15”