8 June, 2022, 0001 CET
The 2022 World Hepatitis Summit opened on Tuesday with a high-level panel discussion featuring Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO); Helen Clark, former Prime Minister, New Zealand; Professor Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, acting Health Minister, Egypt; Dr Tenu Avafia, Deputy Executive Director, Unitaid; Daniel Ngamije, Minister of Health, Rwanda and Charles Gore, Executive Director, Medicines Patent Pool.
WHO new global health sector strategy was discussed at the 75th World Health Assembly, addressing HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO) joined the World Hepatitis Summit in person, and highlighted: “WHO’s new global health sector strategy sets new actions and targets to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030, by driving new infections and deaths down to half a million each, globally – a reduction of 90% and 65%, respectively”. Dr Tedros reassured audiences that “WHO remains committed to accelerate elimination”. Dr Tedros highlighted the developments in hepatitis B vaccination and in the treatment of hepatitis C, but stressed most countries were not on track for elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030.
Dr Tedros stated, “it’s about people not numbers – by 2030 everyone needs knowledge and tools to prevent hepatitis and get the care they need”. Addressing the recent surge in acute viral hepatitis amongst children, Dr Tedros emphasised that “WHO is working closely with countries for the acute viral hepatitis outbreak in young children”.
Helen Clark, former Prime Minister, New Zealand joined the panel virtually, and reiterated on that “we need prioritization of governments and partners”, to succeed in eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. She referenced a recent WHO survey which found half of the countries surveyed received disruption in services for hepatitis B and C. Helen also stressed the value of self-care and wellbeing is valuable for those living with hepatitis.
Professor Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, acting Health Minister, Egypt told audiences that Egypt once had the highest hepatitis C prevalence worldwide. Through forming strong partnerships and building a strong network of centres for diagnostics, Egyptian health authorities were able to diagnose millions with hepatitis C by screening over 60 million people over the age of 12. He stated “there can be no justice without reaching everyone with appropriate healthcare”
Dr Tenu Avafia, Deputy Executive Director at Unitaid told the panel, “we now have the tools and technology to eliminate viral hepatitis.” In many low- and middle-income countries, the cost of a cure can amount to $100 per person. Dr Avafia also emphasised the value of self-testing as demonstrated through the Covid pandemic, and believes that the simplicity of hepatitis C testing and treatment is critical to eliminate hepatitis C.
A parallel session discussed prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of hepatitis including Chukwuemeka Agwuocha, Senior Associate, Clinton Health Access Initiative. He cited a Clinton Health Access Initiative study which found an estimated 19.7 million children under one still miss key vaccinations in Nigeria. There is a need he said, “to improve healthcare worker knowledge and strengthen health systems through improving infrastructural capacity and vaccine supply securities. Access is crucial to improving birth dose coverage.”
Devin Razavi-Shearer, Senior Manager, Center For Disease Analysis Foundation, stated that “whilst global efforts to reduce hepatitis B have been impressive, the lack of timely dose support to Gavi countries has exasperated pre-existing disparities to extreme levels.”
Nafisa Yussf, Social Researcher, WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis, The Doherty Institute, revealed the gaps in healthcare advice in Australia to mothers on how to understand PMTCT. She cited the poor emotional support for women with focus on the baby and not the mother and a lack of understanding around the vaccine. “To improve care for mothers, we need to strengthen our systems and coordinated care delivery protocols. We need a standardized protocol for implemented and community engagement and support and workforce education needs to improve. Appropriate hepatitis B resources is a gap which must also be addressed”, she stated.
Mohammad Ali, Secretary General, National Liver Foundation of Bangladesh presented on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission and hepatitis B vaccination of children in Bangladesh. “Vaccinations are the best way to control mother to child transmission infection”, he stated “and gynecologists and obstetricians should play a vital role in preventing PMTCT, as well as Women and children’s organizations.”
The World Hepatitis Summit is organized by World Hepatitis Alliance and co-sponsored by World Health Organization (WHO). Its mission is to support countries in meeting the targets needed to eliminate viral hepatitis. The Summit continues until the 10th June.