World Hepatitis Day

On World Hepatitis Day, let us put an end to all forms of discrimination that is meted out to people suffering from hepatitis.

World Hepatitis Day, observed on July 28 every year, aims to raise global awareness of hepatitis — a group of infectious diseases known as Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E — and encourage prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Hepatitis affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic disease and killing close to 1.34 million people every year. Hepatitis causes liver diseases and can also kill a person. World Hepatitis Day is one of eight official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO keeps this year’s theme is “Hepatitis-free future,” with a strong focus on preventing hepatitis B among mothers and newborns. On 28 July, WHO will publish new recommendations on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus. HBV can be prevented among newborns through the use of a safe and effective vaccine. WHO is calling on all countries to work together to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

Significance of the theme

WHO says, “A hepatitis-free future is achievable with a united effort.”

With 2020’s theme for World Hepatitis Day being “Hepatitis-free future”, it becomes all the more crucial to know about the nature, prevention, and treatment of these viral illnesses. Hepatitis A and E are usually self-limited infections and comparatively not as severe as the other types. Hepatitis B and C are the leading causes of hepatitis-related deaths and can lead to serious conditions and cause long-term liver damage like liver cirrhosis, acute on chronic liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Hepatitis D usually occurs in conjunction with Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B and C especially pose a serious threat to India as suggested by the numbers.

Once diagnosed, the course of treatment is based on whether the infection is acute or chronic. In the current scenario, it is vital to get a test and have the medications started, as those with pre-existing health conditions are at a higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Increased awareness through campaigns, initiatives, and discussions will help spread information as well as reduce the stigma about the disease. Awareness will also enable access to testing, ultimately resulting in early diagnosis.

WHO mentions the following points in dealing with the situation:

  1. PREVENT infection among newborns.  All newborns should be vaccinated against hepatitis B at birth, followed by at least 2 additional doses.
  2. STOP TRANSMISSION from MOTHER to CHILD. All pregnant women should be routinely tested for hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis and receive treatment if needed.
  3. LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND. Everyone should have access to hepatitis prevention, testing, and treatment services, including people who inject drugs, people in prisons, migrants, and other highly-affected populations.
  4. EXPAND access to testing and treatment. Timely testing and treatment of viral hepatitis can prevent liver cancer and other severe liver diseases.
  5. MAINTAIN essential hepatitis services during COVID-19. Prevention and care services for hepatitis – such as infant immunization, harm reduction services, and continuous treatment of chronic hepatitis B – are essential even during the pandemic.

Education of the masses is the way forward to find these missing millions and ensuring that they receive proper treatment and care. Only then, it is possible to drastically reduce the number of patients who would suffer from these diseases and eliminate the risk of the virus and achieve the dream of “Hepatitis-free” India.

Let us learn to protect ourselves from Hepatitis diseases on World Hepatitis Day.