The American continent is still struggling to eradicate hepatitis. Although 17 countries have eliminated mother-to-child and early childhood transmission, at least in hepatitis B, there is still work to be done. And in the midst of a pandemic of coronavirus, the danger is greater.
"In the midst of a pandemic, viral hepatitis continues to sicken and kill thousands of people. These services, including vaccination against hepatitis B, are essential and cannot be stopped. Care must continue safely for all who need it, "said the director of the Pan American Health Organization (OPS), Carissa F. Etienne.
The United Nations published that on the continent there are some 3.9 million people with chronic hepatitis B and 5.6 million with hepatitis C.
It is key to maintain universal vaccination to prevent the development of hepatitis B. When the application of this medicine is interrupted, "5.3 million additional chronic infections could appear among children born between 2020 and 2030 and, later, 1 million of additional hepatitis-related deaths among those children, "the agency warned in the publication.
On the occasion of World Hepatitis Day, which is remembered every July 28, the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, warned that the coronavirus pandemic concentrates the efforts of the countries, which means a risk for the fight against other diseases.
“Prevention, testing and treatment services have been disrupted, supply chains are disrupted, limited financial and human resources are being diverted, and the political focus has shifted to containing the pandemic and economic recovery. All of which means that there is a real risk that we may lose the gains we have made. Like many diseases, hepatitis is not just a health problem. It is a huge social and economic burden ”, he recalled.
The Americas have managed to be the region with the lowest prevalence of chronic hepatitis infection, more than two decades after introducing the vaccine, the United Nations recalled. "It is estimated that in 30 years the region managed to reduce the prevalence of hepatitis B in children under 5 years of age from 0.7% to less than 0.1%, an average that today stands at 0.9% worldwide" .
In the case of hepatitis C, the United Nations recalled that there is no vaccine but in 95% of cases there is a cure thanks to antivirals. "However, only 14% of infected people in Latin America and the Caribbean are diagnosed and less than 1% receive treatment due to its high cost." (I)