Patients with viral hepatitis decreased by 55 per cent to 133 in 2020 compared to 260 in 2019, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).
Coinciding with the World Hepatitis Day themed ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait,’ which falls on July 28 every year, the Ministry of Health said that globally viral hepatitis kills 1.45 million people annually but yet, it is preventable and can be treated. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted by unsafe injection, sharing tattooing equipment or sharp objects like razors. This disease can only be prevented by vaccination.
On this occasion, Dr Ahmed al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in 2020 there were 30 million people chronically infected with viral hepatitis in the Eastern Mediterranean Region; 65,000 people died of hepatitis and 570,000 were infected.
“Covid-19 made it even more difficult to deliver essential health services, including vaccination, diagnosis and care. But despite the challenges, and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, WHO’s Thirteenth Programme of Work (GPW-13) and our vision for the region, Vision 2023, we must not lose sight of our goal of universal health coverage.”
Dr Al Mandhari believes that successful elimination requires scaling up of five key recommended interventions; vaccinate infants against hepatitis B; prevent mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B virus; ensure blood and injection safety; ensure safety practices among people who use drugs; and implement testing with a view to treatment.
“Our region has led the way in Hepatitis C testing and treatment over the last five years, thanks to strong political commitment from our member states, especially Egypt. Twenty states have now achieved Hepatitis B control targets, reaching less than 1 per cent Hepatitis B prevalence among children under five years of age. These successes prove that we can make a difference” he explained.
People in the region are still getting infected with hepatitis viruses in healthcare settings – precisely where they should expect to be safe. Unsafe injection continues to be a driving source of Hepatitis B and C virus infections and other blood-borne diseases such as HIV.
Coverage of Hepatitis B birth dose vaccination – a key intervention to prevent mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B virus – remains far too low. Such coverage hinders the target to achieve a hepatitis-free future for coming generations.
Dr Al Mandhari also hoped that World Hepatitis Day to be the start of a steady journey towards the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HBV in our region.
“Children who were just born cannot wait more than 24 hours to receive their first dose of Hepatitis B vaccine. I take this opportunity to urge all to work hand in hand and make sure that every mother is tested for Hepatitis B, that every newborn is fully vaccinated. Develop a people-centered approach to the continuity of care so that every mother diagnosed with Hepatitis B can be assured of having their child protected from Hepatitis B virus. This will bring us one step closer to eliminating viral hepatitis.”