Geneva, 28th July 2012 – Marking World Hepatitis Day, the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) calls on the different organizations which make up the United Nations systems to take action to fight against Viral Hepatitis (Hepatitis B and C), a potentially fatal infection of the liver which affects 500 million people. Viral hepatitis is the cause of death of over one million people a year and, around the world, one in every 3 people has been exposed to either the Hepatitis B virus or the Hepatitis C virus. Even more worrying, those infected do not know this and for them the first indication of infection can be the development of liver cancer or liver failure.
EASL acknowledges the progress made in recent years, including the establishment of WHO's Global Hepatitis Programme and welcomes the recent publication of the WHO strategy to prevent and control viral hepatitis infection . However, Professor Mark Thursz, EASL Secretary General, noted that "viral hepatitis needs to be recognised as a serious threat in its own right and measures need to be taken to prevent those not yet infected from becoming infected and to ensure treatment is made available for those who are infected".
EASL laments the impact of the exclusive emphasis on HIV, TB and malaria in policies arising from the Millennium Development Goals. As part of the work he has recently been conducting in Africa, Prof. Thursz met a patient who told him "If I don't catch HIV soon I'll die." Life saving antiviral medications which work against both HIV and HBV are provided by the Global Fund for patients with HIV but denied for patients with HBV. Prof Thursz remarked that "Continuing to ignore viral hepatitis is discriminating and will compromise achievements in sustainable development. UNDP should give viral hepatitis the same priority as HIV, TB and malaria."
Prof. Markus Peck-Radosavljevic, EASL's Vice-Secretary, noted "Viral hepatitis is a global issue. We need WHO to take a more active role in setting standards to control the transmission of infection through medical interventions and blood products. It will be difficult to address the epidemic effectively until WHO establish screening and surveillance protocols in every region"