What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These five types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread.
What makes viral hepatitis a global health problem?
Viral hepatitis is the 7th leading cause of death globally, accounting for 1.4 million deaths per year – more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. Together, hepatitis B and hepatitis C cause 80% of liver cancer cases in the world.
In the South-East Asia Region, 100 million people are currently estimated to be living with hepatitis B and 30 million with hepatitis C. In India, viral hepatitis is now recognised, as a serious public health problem with an estimated 6-12 million people living with viral hepatitis experiencing difficulties accessing testing and treatment facilities. These numbers place a huge disease, social and economic burden on the affected individual and family, as well as the health system.
Viral hepatitis is not found in one location nor amongst one set of people; it can affect millions of people without them even being aware. Globally, 95% of people living with viral hepatitis do not know. This can result in the real possibility of developing fatal liver disease at some point in their lives and in some cases, unknowingly transmitting the infection to others.
With the availability of effective vaccines and treatments for hepatitis B and a cure for hepatitis C, the elimination of viral hepatitis is achievable, but greater awareness of the disease and the risks is a must, as is access to cheaper diagnostics and treatment.