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PAHO Urges Increased Use of Diagnostics, Medicines for Viral Hepatitis

Source: Loop Caribbean
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean, to rapidly scale-up access to diagnosis and treatment for hepatitis B and C to achieve the goal of elimination in the Region by 2030.

Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that can lead to serious disease and death, affects over 10 million people in the Americas. But PAHO said while hepatitis can become chronic, it can be effectively controlled with medicines if detected in time.

The international community is observing World Hepatitis Day on Friday and PAHO said in the Americas, just 18 per cent of those with hepatitis B and 22 per cent of those with hepatitis C are aware they have the condition.

It said of these, just three per cent of those with hepatitis B and 18 per cent with hepatitis C receive treatment.

“This is primarily due to continued under-investment in diagnostics and hepatitis medicines, which, in the case of hepatitis C, can treat the disease in just 12 weeks.

PAHO Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, said while immunization programmes have enabled the Americas to significantly reduce mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B, “more than 100,000 people die each year due to liver cancer or cirrhosis caused by hepatitis B and C.

“These deaths can be prevented if we increase the offer of testing and treatment services.”

PAHO’s Regional Advisor on Hepatitis Prevention and Control, Dr Leandro Sereno, said one of the main impediments to the treatment of chronic viral hepatitis is the perception that the medicines required are prohibitively expensive for countries.

“However, thanks to the increased availability of generics in the Region, the cost of treating hepatitis has reduced considerably over the past decade.”

Countries in the region can also purchase medicines to treat hepatitis through the PAHO Regional Revolving Funds – technical cooperation mechanisms for the pooled procurement of life-saving medicines, diagnostics, vaccines, and medical devices.

The patented product to treat hepatitis C is now available at less than half its original cost via the Funds, as are affordable generic options, providing countries with the opportunity to massively scale-up access to treatment.

World Hepatitis Day is observed every year to reflect on progress and achievements in the fight against hepatitis, as well as on opportunities to address the gaps in efforts to eliminate the disease as a public health concern.

The theme for this year, ‘One life, One liver’, shines a light on the silent role of the liver in performing over 500 vital functions to keep us alive. This is why prioritising liver health, and knowing our hepatitis status, is so important, PAHO said.

PAHO said over the past five years, through its Regional Revolving Funds, 38 countries in the region have acquired over 31 million doses of hepatitis B vaccines, 16 countries have procured over 3.8 million diagnostic tests and around 25,000 courses of treatment for hepatitis.