By Our Staff Reporter
GENEVA – World Health Organization (WHO), an international organization that aims to fight and control disease, has alerted people to the risks of contracting hepatitis from unsafe blood, unsafe injections, and sharing drug-injection equipment, saying some 11 million people, who inject drugs, have hepatitis B or C infection.
Highlighting the urgent need for enhancing action to prevent viral hepatitis infection, WHO urged countries to ensure infected people are diagnosed and offered treatment.
A WHO press release issued on the eve of World Hepatitis Day said that this year it was focusing, particularly on hepatitis B and C, which together cause around 80 per cent of all liver cancer deaths and kill close to 1.4 million people every year.
It cautioned that children born to mothers with hepatitis B or C and sex partners of people with hepatitis are also at risk of becoming infected.
The world health body emphasized the need for all health services to reduce risks by using only sterile equipment for injections and other medical procedures, to test all donated blood and blood components for hepatitis B and C (as well as HIV and syphilis) and to promote the use of the hepatitis B vaccine. Safer sex practices, including minimizing the number of partners and using barrier protective measures (condoms), also protect against transmission, it said.
Approximately, two million people contract hepatitis from unsafe injections each year but these infections could be averted by using sterile syringes that are specifically designed to prevent reuse.
INJECTIONS: Two million people contract hepatitis from unsafe injections each year which could be prevented with sterile syringes.
Suggesting that oral medications could be used, WHO said that injections are not the first recommended course of treatment for many diseases.
In this regard, the world body pointed out that of the total 16 billion injections administered every year, around 5pc of them are for immunization, a further 5pc for procedures like blood transfusions and injectable contraceptives, and the remaining 90pc to administer medicines.
WHO recommended vaccinating all children against hepatitis B infection, from which approximately 780,000 people die each year. A safe and effective vaccine could protect from hepatitis B infection for life. Ideally, the vaccine should be given as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by 2 or 3 doses to complete the vaccine series.
Recommending vaccinating adults who are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis B, the organization said that these include people who frequently require blood or blood products (for example dialysis patients), health-care workers, people who inject drugs, household and sexual contacts of people with chronic hepatitis B, and people with multiple sexual partners.
It is since 1982, over one billion doses of hepatitis B vaccine have been used worldwide and millions of future deaths from liver cancer and cirrhosis have been prevented. In a number of countries where around one in 10 children used to become chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus, vaccination has reduced the rate of chronic infection to less than one in 100 among immunized children.
Though no vaccine is available against hepatitis C to-date, medicines are now available that could cure most people with hepatitis C and control hepatitis B infection. People who receive these medicines are much less likely to die from liver cancer and cirrhosis and much less likely to transmit the virus to others. WHO, therefore, urged people who think they might have been exposed to hepatitis to get tested so they can find out whether they required treatment to improve their own health and reduce the risk of transmission.
Earlier this year, the WHO’s new guidelines for treatment of hepatitis B infection, recommended use of simple non- invasive tests to assess the stage of liver disease to help identify who required treatment.
WHO also called for prioritizing treatment of those with cirrhosis, the most advanced stage of liver disease, and for the use of two safe and highly effective medicines – tenofovir or entecavir. Continued monitoring of using simple tests is important to assess whether treatment is working, and if it can be stopped.
In 2014, WHO issued guidance for testing and treatment of hepatitis C infection whereby it recommended providing testing for people considered at high risk of infection and ensuring treatment for those, who have the virus, with several effective medicines, including new regimens that use only oral medicines.
WHO will update recommendations on drug treatments periodically as and when new anti-viral medicines become available and new evidence emerges, the release concluded.