As WHO Drafts Its Global Health Strategies, a Need to Reconsider Viral Hepatitis Response
Friday, April 10, 2015
The World Health Organization recently announced that it was seeking input on the three global health sector strategies — HIV and AIDS, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infection — it was drafting until April 30. The strategies, which will cover 2016-2021, will be finalized at the 69th World Health Assembly in 2016.
Among the three health issues, viral hepatitis has arguably received the least attention. According to Jennifer Johnston, executive director of the Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific, viral hepatitis is the eighth highest cause of mortality around the world, causing around 1.4 million deaths from acute infection and hepatitis-related liver cancer and cirrhosis every year. It is a toll comparable to that of HIV and tuberculosis, and yet funding to combat viral hepatitis has significantly paled.
In the most recent report on donor funding for global health released by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, viral hepatitis is not included among the diseases that donors have addressed.
More recently, at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s 32nd board meeting held last November, the Global Fund stated that while it has received a number of requests from countries for hepatitis C treatment financing and it has given some support for hepatitis C treatment under its Technical Review Panel, it has “not specifically considered the question of funding for hepatitis C nor the broader question of financing for other co-infections and co-morbidities of the three diseases.”
Hepatitis B incidence is even higher than that of hepatitis C — despite the introduction of a hepatitis B vaccine in 1982. There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C.
“Hepatitis B is very contagious — it is 100 times more virulent than HIV, while hepatitis C is 10 times more virulent than HIV,” Johnston told Devex.
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