Millions Gain Access to Treatment for Hepatitis C Virus

Over the past 2 years, 3 million individuals around the world have received treatment for hepatitis C virus (HCV) and in 2016, an additional 2.8 million began treatment for hepatitis B virus (HBV), according to a press release from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The overwhelming number of individuals who have gained access to treatment highlights the success of ongoing efforts to combat viral hepatitis, according to the WHO.
"We have seen a nearly 5-fold increase in the number of countries developing national plans to eliminate life-threatening viral hepatitis over the last 5 years," said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of WHO's Department of HIV and Global Hepatitis Programme. "These results bring hope that the elimination of hepatitis can and will become a reality."
Nearly 200 countries joined together with the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030, according to the release. Thus far, the countries have made significant progress towards the WHO’s goal through strong leadership and by reducing hepatitis drug costs, according to the WHO.
In 2016 alone, 1.76 million individuals around the world were treated for HCV, which increased from 1.1 million in 2015, according to the WHO. Additionally, 2.8 million individuals received HBV treatment in 2016 compared with 1.7 million in 2015.
Despite the substantial progress towards achieving the WHO’s goal of eliminating hepatitis, these are only the first steps of many. However, continuing to further progress may be difficult due to financial constraints, according to the release.
To significantly increase access to treatment, the WHO said that countries need to implement novel strategies to test and diagnose patients. Additionally, countries must provide prevention strategies, especially to high-risk populations, including injection drug users.
While vaccination against the virus has drastically dropped infections among children, other strategies are needed. Preventive measures, such as birth-dose vaccination, harm reduction services, and infection control, should be implemented, according to the release.
Countries also need to be innovative and develop novel tools to rapidly diagnose HBV and HCV, as well as develop a functional cure for HBV, the WHO wrote.
"We cannot meet the ambitious hepatitis elimination targets without innovation in prevention interventions and approaches, and implementing them to scale,” said Dr Ren Minghui, assistant director-general for Communicable Diseases, WHO. “The great successes of hepatitis B vaccination programmes [sic] in many countries need to be replicated and sustained globally in the context of moving forward to universal health coverage."
During the World Hepatitis Summit 2017, the WHO and the World Hepatitis Alliance aim to take steps to help countries enact new strategies to prevent new infections, according to the release.
"We cannot lose sight of the fact that last year 194 governments committed to eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. For sure we are still a long way from this goal but that doesn’t mean it’s some unattainable dream. It’s eminently achievable. It just requires immediate action," said Charles Gore, President of World Hepatitis Alliance. "The World Hepatitis Summit 2017 is all about how to turn WHO’s global strategy into concrete actions and inspire people to leave with a ‘can do’ attitude."

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The date, a part of the Hepatitis Awareness Month, brings to light the alarming rates of the diseases, which are often preventable or treatable with intervention.
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