Viral hepatitis is a highly endemic disease and a public health problem. It is responsible for an estimated 1.4 million deaths per year globally, mostly from hepatitis-related liver cancer and cirrhosis. Unfortunately, most people with chronic viral hepatitis are not aware of their status and do not receive appropriate treatment.
The World Health Assembly and the Regional Committee resolutions on viral hepatitis that were adopted in 2010 and 2014 respectively recognized viral hepatitis as a public health problem and the need for governments and populations to take action to prevent, diagnose and treat viral hepatitis. The resolutions call upon WHO to provide the necessary technical support to enable Member States to develop robust national viral hepatitis prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies.
Significant barriers, including inadequate data for making decisions and limited coverage of effective prevention interventions, need to be addressed before the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a major public health threat can be realized. The lack of simple and effective hepatitis testing strategies and tools; the very limited access to effective treatment and care services; unaffordable hepatitis medicines and diagnostics; and lack of a comprehensive public health approach need to be addressed as well. Various structural barriers increase vulnerability and prevent equitable access to services. Widespread stigma and discrimination hinder access to health services for populations that may be marginalized and who are at higher risk of hepatitis infection.
The aim of the document, Prevention, Care and Treatment of viral hepatitis in the African Region: Framework for action 2016 – 2020, is to guide Member States in the African Region to implement the Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis. The priority actions proposed include developing data systems to understand the burden of the disease, preventing viral hepatitis transmission and countries designing strong hepatitis treatment programmes.
This framework defines the response to viral hepatitis in the Region for the period 2016 – 2020 as a contribution to achieving the 2030 agenda for sustainable development by ensuring universal health coverage.
Strengthening health systems and prioritizing innovation will be crucial to achieving the targets set in the Regional Strategy. It is proposed that the interventions be carried out in an integrated manner to maximize effectiveness.
Furthermore, participation of all stakeholders, including communities, under the leadership of governments, will be essential.
The Regional Committee examined and adopted this framework.