AsianScientist (Jul. 30, 2011) – This World Hepatitis Day on 28 July, 2011, a group of leading experts in viral hepatitis is urging governments and the public across Asia Pacific to increase awareness of the disease.
The group, known as CEVHAP (Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific), was recently formed to address the lack of awareness and political will to tackle issues associated with viral hepatitis.
Viral hepatitis, particularly Hepatitis B and C, affects one in 12 people worldwide, claiming the lives of approximately one million people every year. Asia Pacific carries the major part of the global burden of viral hepatitis.
China and India together have an estimated 123 million people chronically infected with Hepatitis B and 59 million people chronically infected with Hepatitis C, accounting for almost 50 percent of all infections worldwide.
In Southeast Asia, the overall prevalence of chronic Hepatitis B infection is also high (>8 percent). For Hepatitis C, it is estimated that 2-3 percent of world population carry the Hepatitis C virus.
“Viral hepatitis is a life-threatening disease, a situation made worse by the fact that a large proportion of those infected do not know that they carry the virus. Awareness of the disease has become a critical issue,” said Professor Dr. Rosmawati Mohamed, consultant hepatologist at University of Malaya Medical Center and an Executive Council Member of CEVHAP.
Compounding the problem, viral hepatitis is mostly a silent disease and many people are also ignorant about how it is transmitted and how it can be fatal if diagnosed at a late stage, Dr. Mohamed added.
Despite having a similar social impact as HIV/AIDS, with the number of chronic infections and deaths exceeding that from HIV/AIDS and any cancer, hepatitis lacks the same level of awareness and political momentum, says CEVHAP.
“While chronic hepatitis is a silent disease with little or no symptoms for many years, it is also a silent disease when it comes to public awareness and government attention,” said Professor D. S. Chen, Distinguished Chair Professor of the College of Medicine at National Taiwan University and co-founder of CEVHAP.
“This has led to the situation we find ourselves in today, where a large population with viral hepatitis does not seek medical attention or receive treatment – and this is also true for countries where the treatment is reimbursed by the government,” Chen said.
July 28 also marks Professor Baruch Blumberg’s birthday, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize for his discovery of the virus that causes Hepatitis B.
This is the first year that World Hepatitis Day is celebrated as a result of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Resolution on Viral Hepatitis on 21 May, 2010. The WHO Resolution also expresses concern about the lack of progress in the prevention, control, and treatment of viral hepatitis around the world.
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