Hepatitis cases decline but remain a global problem

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Despite significant inroads in the treatment and prevention of hepatitis over the past two decades, the disease continues to infect 325 million people worldwide.

Hepatitis mainly affects the liver and can be caused by at least five different viruses—with the most common ones causing hepatitis A, B, and C. While hepatitis A and B are vaccine-preventable, there are currently no vaccines for preventing hepatitis C. Worldwide, the number of cases of acute hepatitis A, B and C are estimated to be about 170 million, 145 million, and 5 million, respectively, in 2017.

The incidence of acute hepatitis A, B, and C has decreased in almost all regions, with the biggest improvements taking place in the regions with the highest incidence rates. For hepatitis A, these regions include Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia. For hepatitis B, incidence has also decreased although it is still high for Sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia and Pacific with 2.8 and 2.2 thousand cases per 100,000 people, respectively. Compared with hepatitis A and B, incidence rates are lower for hepatitis C. However, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C and about 70 to 80 percent of infected people are likely to develop a chronic disease, therefore it is still a significant health challenge. Incidence of hepatitis C has decreased over time in all regions but still has rates of 120 cases per 100,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa and 102 cases per 100,000 people Middle East and North Africa.

Hepatitis C can be transmitted through percutaneous exposure incidents, such as exposure to infected blood due to sharing of needles or other instruments used in ingesting drugs. Hepatitis C can be prevented by avoiding behaviors that spread the disease. National recommendations to prevent infection and reduce its incidence include health system improvements to guarantee that blood, organs, and tissues from donors are screened, testing persons at risk of infection, providing training to personnel in charge of drug injection, and implementing infection control techniques.

In 2017, Egypt had the highest prevalence rate of Hepatitis C in the world with a rate of 41.6 cases per 100,000 people. Recognizing the importance of reducing hepatitis C by improving the healthcare system, Egypt’s government, in collaboration with the World Bank, launched the Transforming Egypt’s Healthcare System program in 2018. The program aims to help Egypt achieve Universal Coverage by improving healthcare quality and making access more equitable and inclusive.

Transforming Egypt’s Healthcare System aims to benefit 55 million Egyptians by improving the quality of service at more than 600 primary healthcare facilities and 27 hospitals. This includes increasing access to family planning, health specialists and birth control methods, incentivizing better health and nutrition practices, screening 53 million citizens and residents for hepatitis C and other risk factors, and screening 1 million units of blood annually to ensure blood units are infection free. These objectives aim to reduce hepatitis C infections by treating an estimated 2.2 million hepatitis C patients, and by preventing new infections caused by infected blood transfusions.  

For more information on Egypt’s Transforming Egypt’s Healthcare System project, visit the Protecting Egyptians Health website.

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