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Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The most common forms of hepatitis are caused by hepatitis viruses, of which there are five main types. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that these are of greatest concern because of the “burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread”.  It cites types B and C as most concerning. These lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people globally and, taken together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer. The WHO also believes the condition is being overlooked.

Viral hepatitis B and C affect 325 million people worldwide, leading to about 1.4 million deaths a year. It is the second major killer infectious disease after tuberculosis, and 9 times more people are infected with hepatitis than HIV. Deaths from hepatitis have been increasing over the past two decades, which points to a lack of global awareness and action, including among top decision-makers.

The need to combat hepatitis globally forms one of the targets under the sustainable development goals. These were agreed by UN member states, including the UK, in 2015. The WHO subsequently set the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a “major public health threat” by 2030 and reducing the mortality rate by 10% by 2020. The UK Government has stated it is committed to the goal of eliminating hepatitis C (the most common form of the virus in the UK) by 2030. 

World Hepatitis Day is held annually on 28 July and is promoted by the World Hepatitis Alliance. This year’s theme is ‘Invest in Eliminating Hepatitis’.

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