World Summit on Viral Hepatitis Held in Glasgow

The three-day gathering drew policymakers, patient groups, and physicians and other key stakeholders from more than 60 countries around the world

The first summit on viral hepatitis to be backed by the United Nations got under way last week in Glasgow, Scotland.

The three-day gathering drew policymakers, patient groups, and physicians and other key stakeholders from more than 60 countries around the world. The Scottish government hosted the event, which was cosponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Hepatitis Alliance, according to a news release from the UN News Centre.

Health officials estimate that about 400 million people across the globe have viral hepatitis, which kills about 1.45 million people each year and is a leading cause of death around the world. Hepatitis B and C together cause approximately 80% of all liver cancer deaths, yet most people living with chronic viral hepatitis are unaware of their infection.

The aim of this first ever high-level global meeting on hepatitis was to help countries enhance action to prevent viral hepatitis infection and ensure that people who are infected are diagnosed and offered treatment. Officials expect the world summit to become an annual event that will focus attention on a public health approach to viral hepatitis, according to a news release issued by WHO.

“This summit is about empowering countries to take the practical steps needed at a national level,” Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance, stated in the WHO release. “It has brought here to Scotland patients’ groups and civil society from across the world to support countries in doing this. We can eliminate viral hepatitis as a major global killer but we must all work together to make that vision a reality.”

Health officials estimate that 130 million-to-150 million people worldwide are chronically infected with Hepatitis C, a blood borne virus which can seriously damage the liver over time. Approximately half a million people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases.

Somewhere from 5 to 10 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia is chronically infected with hepatitis B. The Amazon and southern parts of eastern and central Europe also reportedly have high rates of infection, according to the WHO.

During the summit, policymakers were expected to draft a strategy that sets the year 2030 as a specific target date for whittling away at the disease impact. The likely goals would be to reduce new cases of chronic hepatitis B and C by 90 percent, deaths by 65 percent and to treat 80 percent of all eligible people with chronic infections of either disease.

“We know how to prevent viral hepatitis, we have a safe and effective vaccine for hepatitis B, and we now have medicines that can cure people with hepatitis C and control hepatitis B infection,” Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the WHO’s Global Hepatitis Programme, said in the UN release. “Yet access to diagnosis and treatment is still lacking or inaccessible in many parts of the world. This summit is a wake-up call to build momentum to prevent, diagnose, treat - and eventually eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health problem.”