GENEVA: More than 3,500 people die from hepatitis viruses every day and the global toll is rising, the World Health Organisation warned on Tuesday, calling for swift action to fight the second-largest infectious killer.

New data from 187 countries showed that the number of deaths from viral hepatitis rose to 1.3 million in 2022 from 1.1 million in 2019, according to a WHO report released to coincide with the World Hepatitis Summit in Portugal this week.

These are “alarming trends,” Meg Doherty, head of the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes, told a press conference.

The report said that there are 3,500 deaths per day worldwide from hepatitis infections — 83 per cent from hepatitis B, 17 percent from hepatitis C. There are effective and cheap generic drugs which can treat these viruses.

Yet only three per cent of those with chronic hep B received antiviral treatment by the end of 2022, the report said. For hep C, just 20pc — or 12.5 million people — had been treated.

“These results fall well below the global targets to treat 80pc of all people living with chronic hep B and C by 2030,” Doherty said. The overall rate of hepatitis infections did fall slightly.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2024

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