Medical Journal of Malaysia

MJM, Vol 70 Supplement 1 September 2015

Moving Forward to Eliminating Viral Hepatitis

Rosmawati Mohamed

Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya and University of Malaya Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Viral hepatitis is a global health problem, responsible for approximately 1.45 million deaths worldwide annually. The Asian Pacific region bears the major burden of deaths related to viral hepatitis, mainly due to Hepatitis B and C. Chronic viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer, which is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in this region. Despite the high burden, the level of awareness and political response are insufficient to adequately tackle this public health issue.

Viral hepatitis is preventable, treatable and, in the case of Hepatitis C, curable. This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) included the newest hepatitis treatments in their Model List of Essential Medicines as a signal to governments that they should make them available to those who need them. However, the lesson we learnt from HIV/AIDS is that providing access to drugs is not enough. A significant proportion of people living with viral hepatitis do not know that they are infected. There is an urgent need to scale up on early detection of people at high risk of Hepatitis B and C, strengthen measures to prevent transmission of viral hepatitis and improve the quality of life and survival for those already infected by ensuring that they receive appropriate treatment and care.

Adoption of the second resolution on viral hepatitis by the 67th Session of the World Health Assembly in 2014 (Resolution WHA 67.6) and now that viral Hepatitis is featured in the proposed Post 2015 Health and Development Goal (Goal 3: 3.3 - By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, TB, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases, and other communicable diseases) should reaffirm the commitment of countries to reduce the burden of viral hepatitis and start putting into place concrete steps towards the elimination of viral hepatitis. All elements outlined in the WHO Global Hepatitis Framework will be needed to achieve a coordinated approach to combating viral hepatitis. Some of these steps will be small, some big - but all will require commitment by relevant stakeholders, smart allocation of available resources, and a better understanding of the ‘silent epidemic’ which we talk so little about.