KILLING as many people as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, or malaria, hepatitis has risen in worldwide prominence, resulting annually in 1.45 million deaths. This is according to data from 183 countries over 13 years, analysed by Imperial College, London, UK, and the University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, occurs as a result of exposure to harmful substances, or after viral infection. There are five types of viral hepatitis: A–E. The majority of deaths worldwide, however, are caused by types B and C, as there are few immediate symptoms but long-term problems such as cirrhosis occur, leading to liver failure or cancer.
Data taken from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Burden of Disease Study assessed deaths from hepatitis A, B, C, and E (hepatitis D is only found in those already infected by type B) and showed that annual deaths from acute infection, cirrhosis, and liver disease caused by viral hepatitis worldwide increased from 890,000 in 1990 to 1.45 million in 2013.
Deaths due to viral hepatitis most commonly occur in East Asia, and are more frequent in high and middle-income countries. The overall burden of the disease, however, is more evenly distributed across rich and poor nations. No effective vaccination against hepatitis C exists, and although there is one for hepatitis B, a high proportion of the world is not vaccinated, with researchers concluding that: “an evolution in funding structures is required to accommodate the burden of viral hepatitis and allow effective responses in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.”
Dr Graham Cooke, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK explained: “This study will hopefully highlight that we should be doing more to make treatments for viral hepatitis affordable and accessible.” The authors are confident their study will lead to greater awareness of the current situation, with the World Health Assembly approving the implementation of a global action plan for hepatitis in May 2016.