A step towards the elimination of viral hepatitis

28 Jan 2016 Tara Farrell

Today, Member States and civil society groups convened at the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board (EB) meeting in Geneva to discuss the draft Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis and the aspirational targets included.

Encouragingly, a high majority of countries endorsed the strategy saying that it was a welcome advancement in combatting viral hepatitis and key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Brazil in particular showcased its support by advocating for its adoption at the World Health Assembly in May, which many countries agreed with.

Other countries, including Australia, showed their support highlighting the important role that Universal Health Coverage will play in providing a framework to accomplish the strategy. Thailand, Saudi Arabia and India, amongst many others, raised the issue of treatment costs and the considerable barriers to access and called for the World Health Organization to assist and collectively work to lower the cost of interventions. Greece highlighted the importance of national plans, in particular around harm reduction, and signalled their political will to take concrete steps to make sure the interventions and strategy are met. Indonesia also reiterated the importance of prioritising blood & injection safety and harm reduction. Russia however, felt that improvements could be made and offered their support to discuss technical elements ahead of the World health Assembly in May.

The strategy is the single most important document on viral hepatitis to date because it represents, for the first time, very specific commitments in the form of targets and includes a goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

At the EB today, Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA), urged Member States “to recommend this strategy as it stands to the World Health Assembly for adoption in May”. He said “It has ambitious targets but we need ambitious targets. The Western Pacific Region’s ambitious target for reducing the prevalence of hepatitis B in children by 2012 was not achieved by every country, but it was achieved by the region. Please be inspired by that example.”

Although the meeting today signalled an important step forward, more needs to be done ahead of the World Health Assembly in May. It will be crucial for WHA members and civil society groups to continue to advocate to their national policymakers to ensure the adoption of the strategy happens, ultimately signalling a pathway to the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public threat by 2030.