The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised concerns over the alarming toll of viral hepatitis infections, which continue to claim the lives of approximately 3,500 people every day worldwide.

Based on the 2024 Global Hepatitis Report released at the World Hepatitis Summit 2024 in Lisbon, Portugal, the organization has emphasized the urgent need for intensified efforts to combat this silent epidemic, which is the second leading infectious cause of death globally — with 1.3 million deaths per year, the same as tuberculosis, a top infectious killer.

Viral hepatitis, characterized by inflammation of the liver due to viral infection, encompasses hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E viruses. Among these, hepatitis B and C are of particular concern due to their chronic nature, leading to severe liver damage, cirrhosis, and an increased risk of liver cancer if left untreated

The number of deaths from viral hepatitis climbed from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022, according to new statistics from 187 countries of which Hepatitis B was the cause of 83% of cases and Hepatitis C was the cause of 17%

An updated WHO report indicated that an estimated 254 million people live with hepatitis B and 50 million with hepatitis C in 2022. Half the burden of chronic hepatitis B and C infections is among people 30–54 years old, with 12% among children under 18 years of age and 58% of Men for all cases.

Despite advances in medical science and the availability of effective tools for diagnosis and treatments, decreasing product prices, testing, and treatment coverage rates have stalled with viral hepatitis still being a major cause of morbidity and mortality globally.

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The WHO’s latest report underscores the scale of the problem, revealing that viral hepatitis accounts for an estimated 1.3 million deaths annually, equivalent to 3,500 deaths per day. This staggering figure highlights the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to prevent, diagnose, and treat hepatitis infections on a global scale.

According to the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “This report paints a troubling picture: despite progress globally in preventing hepatitis infections, deaths are rising because far too few people with hepatitis are being diagnosed and treated,”

“WHO is committed to supporting countries to use all the tools at their disposal – at access prices – to save lives and turn this trend around.” Dr. Ghebreyesus

The revised estimates are derived from enhanced data from national prevalence surveys. They also indicate that prevention measures such as immunization and safe injections, along with the expansion of hepatitis C treatment, have contributed to reducing the incidence.

In response to the growing threat of viral hepatitis, the WHO has called for concerted action from governments, healthcare providers, civil society organizations, and the private sector.

According to WHO, much more needs to be done to achieve its goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. This will require sustained investment in healthcare infrastructure, expanding access to testing and diagnostics, shifting from policies to implementation for equitable treatment, strengthening primary care prevention efforts innovative approaches to service delivery, optimizing product regulation and supply and using improved data for action as well as engaging affected communities and civil society and advancing research for improved diagnostics and potential cures for hepatitis B among other actions.