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WHO calls countries to scale up funds in elimination of hepatitis

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THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on member countries to scale up investments in the elimination of Hepatitis disease.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made this call on Friday ahead of the World Hepatitis Day coming up on Sunday, July 28.

By investing in diagnostic tests and medicines for treating hepatitis B and C, Tedros said countries could save lives and reduce costs related to the treatment of serious complications like liver cancer and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).

“On World Hepatitis Day, we’re calling for bold political leadership, with investments to match. We call on all countries to integrate services for hepatitis into benefit packages as part of their journey towards universal health coverage,” said Tedros.

Viral hepatitis B and C affect about 325 million people globally, causing 1.4 million deaths. It is the second major killer infectious disease after tuberculosis. Nine times more people are infected with hepatitis than HIV.

A new study conducted by WHO published on The Lancet Global Health found that a total of $59 billion is needed annually in 67 low and middle-income countries to avert premature deaths of 4.5 million people by 2030. This means new hepatitis infections would be reduced by 90 per cent and deaths by 65 per cent.

WHO said as of today, 80 per cent of people living with hepatitis could not get the services they need to prevent, test for and treat the disease.

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“Some countries are already taking action,” WHO statement read in part. “The Government of India, for example, has announced that it will offer free testing and treatment for both hepatitis B and C, as part of its universal health coverage plan” it added.

WHO also mentioned that the Pakistan government has also procured hepatitis C curative treatment at similarly low prices.

It urged all countries to invest in eliminating hepatitis through costing, budgeting and financing of elimination services within their universal health coverage plans. “…with 124 out of 194 countries developing hepatitis plans, over 40 per cent of country plans lack dedicated budget lines to support elimination efforts,” the health agency noted.

It also released online calculators  (www.hepccalculator.org and www.hepbcalculator.org) to help decision-makers in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of their hepatitis treatment programme. 

In Nigeria, hepatitis is a common disease. The WHO estimated that 11.2 per cent of Nigeria’s population is hepatitis B positive.

The figure indicates that 20 million Nigerians are living with the viral infection, meaning that one in nine Nigerians has this incurable but preventable disease. For hepatits C, which is curable, about two per cent of the population lives with it.

In 2017, former minister of health, Isaac Adewole expressed the determination of Nigerian government to eliminate hepatitis B infection by 2021.

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Checking through the 2019 budget of the Federal Ministry of Health, N28 million was budgeted for the “acquisition of recombinant DNA technology for the local production of vaccines (HPV, hepatitis b/c, pediatric vaccines)”. No money was budgeted for the viral infection awareness.

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