One person dies every 30 seconds from viral hepatitis in the Asia Pacific Region, a death rate that is three times higher than HIV/AIDS, new data shows.
The number of people dying from viral hepatitis has reached one million every year, up from 695,000 in 1990, noted Dr. Jose Sollano Jr., gastroenterologist and member of the Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific (CEVHAP) in the Philippines, at a roundtable discussion Thursday in preparation for World Hepatitis Day in July 28.
Viral hepatitis refers to a group of diseases caused by infection from one of five viruses—hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
“Hepatitis causes serious problems in some patients like fibrosis, chirrhosis, advanced liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma,” Sollano said.
Hepatitis B and C contribute the largest overall disease burden of all forms of hepatitis, with 500 million people worldwide living with chronic hepatitis B or C.
There are 350 million people with chronic hepatitis B alone and 74 percent of them live in Asia Pacific, Sollano said.
In the Philippines, it is estimated that one out of six Filipinos or 16.7 percent are infected with the deadly virus.
“Despite the escalating death toll from viral hepatitis, governments are often at a loss about how to tackle these diseases, lacking the technical expertise, resources and even evidence to justify the investments needed to confront viral hepatitis,” he said.
He urged the country’s policymakers to form national strategies and ensure viral hepatitis receives the attention it needs.
Together with Sollano, the CEVHAP, Hepatitis Society of the Philippines (HSP) and global pharmaceutical company MSD called for stronger and urgent action to fight viral hepatitis.
Sollano said there is a vaccine for hepatitis B and new treatments for chronic hepatitis C that could save millions of lives, “but none of these matter if we fail to tackle viral hepatitis in a more comprehensive way.”
Vaccination for children in public clinics is free, but only small percentage of babies are being vaccinated due to lack of awareness, he said.
World Hepatitis Day will focus on disease education and screening for early detection and treatment. HSP will conduct its annual screening, free clinic and consultations as well as lay fora at Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan. MSD has also partnered with several hospitals to conduct free hepatitis C screenings and lay fora on the following dates: July 17 and 24 – Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu, July 19 – Philippine General Hospital, July 26 11AM – National Kidney and Transplant Institute, July 27 – Davao Doctors Hospital, and July 28 – Cardinal Santos Medical Center.