Americas region

Situation:

  • Around 2.8 million individuals in the Americas Region are infected with hepatitis B (2.1 million of them reside in Latin America and the Caribbean).
  • 56% of new hepatitis B infections are due to mother-to-child transmission and 44% to horizontal transmission in all ages.
  • Chronic infections beginning in childhood account for 57% of all incident chronic infections.
  • Approximately 7.2 million people are affected by hepatitis C in the Americas region (4.1 million are in Latin America and the Caribbean).
  • Only 25% of people living with hepatitis C are diagnosed and in Latin America and the Caribbean just 14% of people are aware they have hepatitis C.
  • In 2015 only 16% of people diagnosed with hepatitis C were accessing treatment.
  • All countries in the region vaccinate children under one year of age against hepatitis B, but 31% do not do so within the first 24 hours of birth, as recommended by WHO.
  • The United States has one of the largest populations of people who inject drugs (PWID) and prevalence of hepatitis C is estimated at 72% among this group.
  • 3% of all deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean between 2008 and 2010 were due to hepatic cancer, liver failure, chronic hepatitis, acute viral hepatitis and cirrhosis.

 “Viral hepatitis continues to be a silent epidemic. Most people who have hepatitis B or C do not know they have the infection, because the symptoms tend to take a number of years to appear.”

Rafael Mazin, PAHO/WHO Senior Advisor on HIV, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, and Sexually Transmitted Infections unit

Response:

  • Some countries have started efforts to expand diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis. Brazil, for example, is incorporating the use of rapid diagnostic tests to expand access to treatment, and the United States has begun expanding testing for hepatitis C among people born between 1945 and 1965 and among high-risk groups.
  • Quantitative hepatitis B viral load testing is available in 72% of countries.
  • Qualitative nucleic acid testing for hepatitis C is available in 65% of countries and genotyping of hepatitis C is available in 63% of the region.
  • The hepatitis B vaccine has been incorporated into childhood vaccination schedules in all Latin American and Caribbean countries with average coverage rates of over 90%.
  • More than 99% of donated blood in the region is screened for hepatitis B and C.
  • In 2015 the region adopted a regional action plan.

This situation is worrying given the high risk of developing chronic infection and complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer. Early detection and access to quality treatment at affordable cost could prevent many people from developing these complications.

Massimo Ghidinelli, Head of PAHO/WHO’s HIV, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, and Sexually Transmitted Infections unit

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