CARPHA joins with the international community in observing World Hepatitis Day, commemorated annually on 28 July, and seeks to raise awareness and eradicate the stigma against viral hepatitis. This year’s theme Hepatitis Can’t Wait aims to convey the urgency of efforts to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.
The World Health Organization notes that a person dies every 30 seconds from hepatitis related illness. The World Health Assembly endorsed a Global Health Sector Strategy (GHSS) for viral hepatitis elimination as a major threat to public health by 2030. In the Region of the Americas for 2019-2020, there were 10,000 and 67,000 incident cases of Hepatitis B and C infections, respectively. 15,000 people died from hepatitis B and 31,000 persons died from hepatitis C infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted some routine national health services which has affected routine testing and treatment for hepatitis.
There are five (5) strains of the hepatitis virus A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A is an infectious disease of the liver caused by Hepatovirus A (HAV), most likely transmitted from contaminated food or water or from close contact with an infected person. Hepatitis B is predominantly transmitted through the exchange of body fluids during sexual intercourse or close contact with an infected person. Mother-to-infant transmission has also been implicated. The B and C viruses lead to an inflammation of the liver and can cause liver cancer. Hospital-acquired infection (HAI) through hemodialysis in kidney failure patients, blood transfusion and needlestick injuries have contributed to the transmission of the virus in healthcare settings. This latter fact emphasizes that newborn babies cannot wait for their hepatitis B vaccination at birth. Hepatitis C is normally transmitted through contaminated needles used in piercings and tattoos and contaminated dental equipment.
Dr. Joy St John, Executive Director, CARPHA lamented that vulnerable populations are often hard hit by viral hepatitis. “Hepatitis virus is a silent killer for many people who have been infected. They often do not experience symptoms until the infection causes serious illness. I want us to remember that people in prisons and persons abusing injectable drugs, are some of our Region’s identified vulnerable populations. They face multiple barriers, such as stigma. These barriers limit their access to testing, treatment, and care. The Caribbean needs to act now for those who often suffer in silence.”
The Integration of viral hepatitis elimination with other health services can’t wait. Dr. Lisa Indar, Director of CARPHA’s Surveillance Disease Prevention and Control (SDPC) emphasized, “Our Member States need to integrate Hepatitis surveillance in their national surveillance strategies. The Region has made notable successes in reducing transmission of viral hepatitis through the elimination of mother-to-child transmission (EMTCT) and protocols in the blood safety programs. Interventions for key populations have also been successful and contributed to decreasing incidence of the disease.”
CARPHA encourages Member States to implement the following measures to promote a hepatitis-free future
- Enhance or develop national Hepatitis strategic plans.
- Increase diagnostic capacity for hepatitis B and C viruses.
- Address gaps in infection prevention and control capacity at hospitals and health care centers.
- Address barriers to harm reduction and ensure these interventions are cross-cutting.
For more information visit https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-hepatitis-day