World Hepatitis Day: WHO

Lauren Roulston • Jul 28, 2023

Photo by Marcelo Leal/UNSPLASH.

Today is World Hepatitis Day. The annual campaign aims to raise awareness and encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

The WHO‘s global hepatitis strategy is endorsed by all WHO Member States. Their goal is to reduce new hepatitis infections by 90 per cent and deaths by 65 per cent between 2016 and 2030.

As a Member State, Canada is committed to the organization’s goal of spreading awareness and promoting testing.

The Ottawa Hospital is conducting research to improve our understanding of hepatitis C and to develop better treatments.

Hepatitis B and C cause 1.1 million deaths worldwide, and 3 million new infections every year, many remain undiagnosed and untreated.

In Canada, the Public Health Alliance of Canada estimates that 44 per cent of Canadians with a hepatitis C infection aren’t aware of it.

The Ottawa Hospital‘s Coordinator for the Viral Hepatitis Program, Roselyn Castaneda, encourages residents to get tested for hepatitis. Effective vaccines and treatments are available, but they highlight the importance of getting tested and treated early.

Hepatitis is a group of diseases usually caused by a virus, infections, alcohol or certain drugs. It’s an inflammation of the liver which can lead to a range of health problems. Viral hepatitis is silent and symptoms often only appear when the disease is advanced.

Getting tested and treated will prevent liver damage and cancer, while also normalizing it as a part of protecting your health.

Groups noted as high risk by the hospital include: baby boomers, members of Canada’s Indigenous population, immigrants to the country, and those who have shared drug equipment or personal care items, such as razors and toothbrushes.

Uganda and Egypt are also engaged with the WHO’s goal of addressing the infection.

Hepatitis B is Uganda’s leading cause of death from liver diseases and cancer. The WHO says six per cent of Ugandans remain chronically infected. The country has elevated access to testing, treatment and vaccines in a strategy that involves raising awareness.

In 2015, Uganda embarked on a free hepatitis B screening program. Four million have been screened to date and more than 30 per cent of people infected with hep B are aware and can begin accessing treatments, including free medication.

Egypt had one of the highest rates of viral hepatitis in the world, according to the WHO.

Inadvertent infection associated with unsafe injection practices in efforts to control a parasitic disease carried by water snails between the 1950s and 1980s left over 6 million Egyptians infected with hep C.

Years of coordinated government action has the country on a path to eliminate the disease. In 2006, the nation launched a network of specialized treatment centres, making testing and treatment accessible and free for all.

They have strengthened prevention and harm reduction in programs covering blood safety, infection control and injection safety.

The hepatitis C cure rate in Egypt has exceeded 98 per cent.

The disease can be prevented by adequately screening donated blood and ensuring safe injection practices in health care settings, at home, and among those who inject drugs.

You can get screened for hepatitis through a family doctor, an Ottawa Public Health Sexual Health Clinic, or a walk-in clinic.

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