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Thursday, May 23, 2024

WHO warns that hepatitis is responsible for 3,500 daily deaths

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised alarm over the rising cases of infections and deaths from viral hepatitis globally.

Citing the 2024 Global Hepatitis Report,WHO explained on its website Tuesday that hepatitis is the second leading infectious disease with 1.3 million deaths per year, the same as tuberculosis, a top infectious killer.


New data from 187 countries show that the estimated number of deaths from viral hepatitis increased from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022.

“Of these, 83 per cent were caused by hepatitis B, and 17 per cent by hepatitis C. Every day, there are 3,500 people dying globally due to hepatitis B and C infections,” it noted.

According to WHO, despite better tools for diagnosis and treatment, and decreasing product prices, testing and treatment coverage rates have stalled.


“However, reaching the WHO elimination goal by 2030 should still be achievable, if swift actions are taken now,” it noted.

More on report

The WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, was quoted to have described the data from the report as worrisome.

“This report paints a troubling picture: despite progress globally in preventing hepatitis infections, deaths are rising because far too few people with hepatitis are being diagnosed and treated.

“WHO is committed to supporting countries to use all the tools at their disposal – at access prices – to save lives and turn this trend around,” he said.


The updated WHO estimates indicate that 254 million people lived with hepatitis B and 50 million with hepatitis C in 2022.

Also, the prevalence of chronic hepatitis B and C infections is among people 30–54 years old, with 12 per cent among children under 18 years of age while men accounted for 58 per cent of all cases.

The new cases,when compared to 2019, indicates a decrease in the number of infections, however the overall incidence of viral hepatitis remains high.

It noted that in 2022, there were 2.2 million new infections, down from 2.5 million in 2019 including 1.2 million new hepatitis B infections and nearly 1 million new hepatitis C infections, adding that more than 6000 people are getting newly infected with viral hepatitis daily.

Diagnosis, treatment

Across all the world regions, the report noted that only 13 per cent of people living with chronic hepatitis B infection had been diagnosed and approximately 3 per cent (7 million) had received antiviral therapy by the end of 2022.

While for hepatitis C, 36 per cent had been diagnosed and 20 per cent (12.5 million) received curative treatment.

These results fall well below the global targets to treat 80 per cent of people living with chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C by 2030, but shows a slight but consistent improvement in diagnosis and treatment coverage since its last report estimates in 2019.

“Hepatitis B diagnosis increased from 10 per cent to 13 per cent and treatment from 2 per cent to 3per cent, and hepatitis C diagnosis from 21 per cent to 36 per cent and treatment from 13 per cent to 20 per cent,” it revealed.

Global burden

The burden of hepatitis viral infection varies regionally. Statistics have shown that the African region has the highest burden of hepatitis B.

“The WHO African Region bears 63 per cent of new hepatitis B infections, yet despite this burden, only 18 per cent of newborns in the region receive the hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination.

“In the Western Pacific Region, which accounts for 47 per cent of hepatitis B deaths, treatment coverage stands at 23 per cent among people diagnosed, which is far too low to reduce mortality, it noted.

Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Russian Federation and Viet Nam, collectively shoulder nearly two-thirds of the global burden of hepatitis B and C.

“Achieving universal access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in these ten countries by 2025, alongside intensified efforts in the African Region, is essential to get the global response back on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals,” it noted.

The disparities in prices exist both across and within WHO regions, with many countries paying above global benchmarks, even for off-patent drugs or when included in voluntary licensing agreements.

The report added that “only 60 per cent of reporting countries offer viral hepatitis testing and treatment services free of charge, either entirely or partially, in the public sector. Financial protection is lower in the African Region, where only about one third of reporting countries provide these services free of charge.”

Challenges, call to action

According to the report, funding has remained a major challenge with regards viral hepatitis both at a global level, noting that the budget allocated is not sufficient to meet the needs.

“This arises from a combination of factors, including limited awareness of cost-saving interventions and tools, as well as competing priorities in global health agendas. This report seeks to shed light on strategies for countries to address these inequities and access the tools at the most affordable prices available,” the report said.

However, it highlighted that the approaches need to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030 includes expanding access to testing and diagnostics, shifting from policies to implementation for equitable treatment, strengthening primary care prevention efforts.

Others are simplifying service delivery, optimising product regulation and supply, developing investment cases in priority countries, and mobilising innovative financing.


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