Global Health Community Renew Commitment to Tackling Viral Hepatitis at 66th World Health Assembly

by Raul Bender

Switzerland, Geneva, 21.05.13

Ministers of Health and global health advocates from across the world yesterday committed to prioritising viral hepatitis as an urgent public health issue at a meeting at the 66th World Health Assembly.  Coordinated by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the World Hepatitis Alliance, the meeting, titled ‘Viral Hepatitis: Addressing the Challenge of the 21st Century’ saw a renewal of the commitment that Health Ministers first made at the 2010 World Health Assembly, when they passed resolution WHA63.18. 

Speaking as the meeting came to a close, Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance explained “It has been three years since the World Health Assembly passed a resolution on viral hepatitis and recognized for the first time the serious global threat that hepatitis B and C pose to the international community.  While progress has been made, much more still needs to be done if we are to prevent the death toll from hepatitis, which is already the same as from HIV/AIDS, rapidly overtaking it. I am delighted that so many Ministries attended this meeting today and that we achieved a major new consensus to accelerate the global response to viral hepatitis.” 

The meeting, which took part alongside the World Health Assembly, saw Ministers and global advocates share best practices in public policy, and resulted in Member States committing to hold a summit in November to coordinate a global effort tackling all aspects of viral hepatitis, from awareness and prevention through to diagnosis and access to affordable medicine.

The development is welcomed by patient groups the world over, who have long been calling for more action to address hepatitis. Although viral hepatitis is responsible for 1.5 million deaths every year and is the 8th leading cause of death worldwide, viral hepatitis has none of the profile, funding or awareness needed to tackle such a global public health threat. “With a mortality rate as high as that of HIV/AIDS, it really is incomprehensible that viral hepatitis has such low awareness and priority” said Mr Gore. To highlight the effects of this, WHO in collaboration with the World Hepatitis Alliance has commissioned the Viral Hepatitis: Prevention & Control Global Policy report, to assess the existing national responses to hepatitis. The report, due for release on World Hepatitis Day (July 28th) this year, is expected to show that with a few notable exceptions, the global response to hepatitis still lacks focus, sophistication or cohesion across national borders.

For this reason, it is of great significance that WHO Member States from across all six world regions have come together to challenge the current low priority of viral hepatitis, instil a sense of urgency in other global actors and ensure that from now on initiatives aimed at tackling public global health threats include viral hepatitis.

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