Hepatitis: A disease much more disastrous than Aids
To increase access to testing and treatment services. Today, only 1 in 20 people with viral hepatitis know they have it. And just 1 in 100 with the disease is being treated.
"The world has ignored hepatitis at its peril," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. "It is time to mobilize a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generated to fight other communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis."
Around the world 400 million people are infected with hepatitis B and C, more than 10 times the number of people living with HIV. An estimated 1.45 million people died of the disease in 2013 - up from less than a million in 1990.
The strategy is ambitious, but the tools to achieve the targets are already in hand. An effective vaccine and treatment for hepatitis B exists.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C but there has been dramatic progress on treatment for the disease in the past few years. The introduction of oral medicines, called direct-acting antivirals, has made it possible to potentially cure more than 90% of patients within 2-3 months.
But in many countries, current policies, regulations and medicine prices put the cure out of most people's reach.
"We need to act now to stop people from dying needlessly from hepatitis," said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO's Director of the HIV/AIDS Department and Global Hepatitis Programme. "This requires a rapid acceleration of access to services and medicines for all people in need."
Some countries, however, are finding ways to get services to the people who need them. These efforts are made easier by the declining price of hepatitis C medicines. Prices are now dropping, particularly in countries that have access to generic drugs.
In 2015, a preliminary analysis estimated that 300 000 people living in low- and middle-income countries had received hepatitis C treatment based on the new direct-acting antivirals.
In addition, implementing blood safety strategies, including quality-assured screening of all donated blood and blood components used for transfusion, can help prevent transmission of hepatitis B and C.
Safe injection practices, eliminating unnecessary and unsafe injections, can be effective strategies to protect against transmission. Harm reduction services for people who inject drugs are critical to reduce hepatitis in this population.