Hepatitis medicines are cheaper now. Treat to save lives.

8 August 2023 – World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on 28 July. The slogan of this year’s regional campaign was “Hepatitis medicines are cheaper now. Treat to save lives”.

In WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, countries/territories have been making slow progress towards testing and treatment targets to eliminate hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030. In 2021, 18 million people were estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis B, 14% of whom were diagnosed and 2% received treatment. In the same year, 12 million people were estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis C, of whom 37% were diagnosed and 34% were treated. Large-scale testing and treatment for hepatitis C in Egypt under the presidential national campaign “One hundred million seha”, accounts for most of the regional progress on hepatitis C virus treatment. Every year, around 61 000 people die due to untreated hepatitis B and C infections in the Region.

In many countries, prices for diagnostics and treatment have been the main barrier to scaling up hepatitis B and C testing and treatment. However, this year, a major global announcement constitutes a turning point for access to hepatitis B and C medicines. In May 2023, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and The Hepatitis Fund (THF) announced 2 new memoranda of understanding with leading generic manufacturers to lower the price of WHO-prequalified hepatitis B and C drugs in low- and middle-income countries. As a result, these countries are now able to obtain WHO-prequalified medicines with a 90% reduction in cost.

Facing this development and building on the laboratory infrastructure built during the COVID-19 response, WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean dedicated the World Hepatitis Day campaign 2023 to advocate for rapid scale-up of hepatitis B and C testing and treatment. In his message on the occasion, Dr Ahmad Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director, urged Member States to use these opportunities and scale up testing and treatment for hepatitis B and C as an essential part of WHO’s regional vision of Health for All by All.

On 27 July 2023, the WHO Regional Office, in collaboration with CHAI, THF and Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology commemorated World Hepatitis Day by organizing a webinar “Talking Access”. The webinar disseminated the lower price hepatitis medicines initiative, means to access it, and shared experiences of how countries benefited from lower drug prices to scale up their hepatitis responses.

The discussion highlighted different country experiences such as Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Countries indicated that price reduction parallel with political commitment are essential to scale up testing and treatment and eliminate hepatitis as a public health problem. In Egypt, political will and allocation of domestic financial and human resources helped the country to implement one of the largest public health initiatives to eliminate hepatitis C.

In October 2022, the Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean adopted a culturally and epidemiologically adapted regional action plan for 2022–2030. To achieve hepatitis elimination by 2030, Member States should scale up testing and treatment for chronic hepatitis B and C virus infections and diagnose 90% of patients and provide treatment to 80% of those eligible by 2030.

Moving forward, WHO will support Member States to translate this access deal into action, so that countries can move towards achieving the pledged targets for 2025 and 2030.

Read a joint comment on this by WHO, CHAI and THF published in The lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langas/article/PIIS2468-1253(23)00239-X/fulltext

Related link

World Hepatitis Day 2023 website

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