World Hepatitis Day, 28 July 2013

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This is hepatitis. Know it. Confront it. Every year on 28 July, WHO and partners mark World Hepatitis Day to increase the awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases that it causes. Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. These viruses constitute a major global health risk with around 240 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis B and around 150 million people chronically infected with hepatitis C.

[column]For 2013, the overall theme continues to be “This is hepatitis. Know it. Confront it.” The campaign emphasizes the fact that hepatitis remains largely unknown as a health threat in much of the world.

Goal: moving from awareness to commitment and action to address the “silent epidemic” of viral hepatitis

Millions of people are living with viral hepatitis and millions more are at risk of becoming infected. Most people with chronic infection with hepatitis B or C are unaware that they continue to carry the virus. They are therefore at high risk of developing severe chronic liver disease and can unknowingly transmit the virus to other people. Approximately one million people die each year from causes related to viral hepatitis, most commonly cirrhosis and liver cancer.

[/column]World Hepatitis Day provides an opportunity to focus on specific actions, such as:

i. strengthening prevention, screening and control of viral hepatitis and its related diseases;

ii. increasing hepatitis B vaccine coverage and integration of the vaccine into national immunization programmes;

iii. coordinating a global response to hepatitis.

Although the burden of disease related to hepatitis infection is very high, in most countries, the problem has not been addressed in a comprehensive way for many reasons. These include the fact that most people do not develop any symptoms when they become infected and that they remain free of symptoms often for decades until they develop chronic liver disease. These factors together have resulted in “the silent epidemic” we are experiencing today.

Viral hepatitis also places a heavy burden on the health-care system because of the high costs of treatment of liver cancer and liver failure from cirrhosis. In many countries, liver failure from viral hepatitis is the leading reason for liver transplants. Such end-stage treatments are expensive, easily costing up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per person.

The date of 28 July was chosen for World Hepatitis Day in honour of the birthday of Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch Samuel Blumberg, discoverer of the hepatitis B virus.[end_columns]

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[Source: WHO campaigns]

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