The World Health Organisation has welcomed what it called “new progress” in tackling viral hepatitis, the tenth leading killer disease around the world. The group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D and E affects millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic liver disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year. “For years, viral hepatitis has been largely neglected,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General at WHO. “But now we are beginning to see greater awareness and global momentum building to tackle it.” But the prevalence of the disease in Nigeria remains unknown, says Institute for Human Virology Nigeria. “There have been numerous prevalence studies in various populations in Nigeria. In a certain population, more than 70% of the people showed evidence of past infection with the virus and 7.3–24% of the population had serological evidence of current infection,” it said in a release ahead of World Hepatitis Day. Of about 350 million carriers of hepatitis globally, two-thirds of them are unaware of their infection. “Globally, HBV is about 10 times more prevalent and 100 times more infectious than HIV infection. It’s the second most important carcinogen (cancer causing agent) after tobacco,” according to IHVN.
[eap_ad_1] A vaccine against hepatitis, which was introduced in 1982, entered Nigeria’s immunisation programme in 1995 and became available to the public in 2004. World Hepatitis Day this year which coincides with the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, has raised concern about public health and clinical challenges of preventing and managing viral hepatitis and HIV co-infection. As many as 4-5 million people are estimated to be infected with both HIV and hepatitis B, said WHO. “The experience gained by HIV programmes in scaling up comprehensive prevention and treatment programmes, improving access to affordable medicines and diagnostics, engaging communities and reaching vulnerable and marginalized populations can do much to inform viral hepatitis responses, addressing wider populations of people affected by hepatitis B and C,” says Dr Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director-General for HIV, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, WHO. “Increasing access to curative treatment for hepatitis B and C and expanding hepatitis B vaccination, and other prevention strategies, provide real opportunities for us to save lives and prevent suffering,” says Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director, HIV Department, WHO. “We are urging ministries of health to ‘think again’ about hepatitis and develop policies that translate into prevention and life-saving treatments.”