First World Hepatitis Day to be launched on July 28, 2011

Hepatitis is one of the most serious and prevalent infectious conditions in the world today. Yet, many people remain unaware of its shocking toll on global health.[1] According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one million deaths a year are attributed to viral hepatitis infections. In fact, nearly one out of every three people in the world (approximately 2 billion people) has been infected by the hepatitis b virus (HBV) and one in twelve (more than 520 million people) live with chronic HBV or the hepatitis c virus (HCV) infection, which jointly are the leading cause for liver cancer in the world (78% of all cases).[2]

Hepatitis in the Americas
Unlike some parts of the world, HBV prevalence is relatively low in the Americas.[3],[4] Although the relatively low endemicity of HBV, the infection remains a major public health problem in the Americas and is a cause of significant morbidity and mortality in certain ethnic populations and among groups of people whose behavior puts them at high risk.[5] Morbidity estimates for the Caribbean and Latin America indicate that nearly 150,000 cases of acute HBV occur in this region annually, two thirds of them in South America alone.[6] In the Caribbean, about 24,000 cases of acute HBV infection are reported each year, and in Mexico and Central America approximately 14,000 cases per year are reported.[7] Additionally, HBV has become a serious problem in almost all the Amerindian communities in the Amazon Basin as well as in other Amazonian ecological systems from north and central South America, where it has been a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Of an estimated 4 million carriers in South America alone, more than 30% are located in the Amazon Basin region.[8]

Prevention and treatment
Viral hepatitis can be prevented through the use of vaccines, as well as effective blood transfusion screenings, sterile injection equipment, safer sex practices, among others. With two of its priority health areas being immunizations and health education, PAHEF fully supports the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO global recommendation to include the HBV vaccine in all immunization schedules, as well as routine use of hepatitis B vaccine among health workers. If already infected, PAHEF supports the premise that early diagnosis is the best method for attaining and maintaining effective medical support, as it allows those infected to take steps to prevent transmission of the disease to others and to take lifestyle precautions to protect their liver from additional harm. Treatment of HBV infection has been shown to reduce the risk of liver cancer and death, with an estimated 20–30% of persons with HBV infection potentially benefitting from treatment. However, drugs active against HBV are not widely available or utilized in persons infected with HBV. Additionally, HCV is generally considered to be a curable disease but for many persons this is not a reality. Much still needs to be done to ensure that these new treatment advances lead to greater access and treatment responses in resource constrained areas of the world.[9]

In 2010, the World Health Assembly (WHA) resolved to designate July 28 as World Hepatitis Day in an effort to increase knowledge and awareness worldwide of viral hepatitis as a global public health problem. As a testament of PAHEF’s commitment to improving health in the Americas, the Foundation stands by WHO, WHA, and PAHO in confronting this important global health problem. By annually shedding light on the hepatitis’ toll, it is hoped that the preventive and control measures of hepatitis-related morbidity and mortality worldwide will be strengthened, ultimately helping to achieve the long-term objective of preventing new infections and delivering real improvements in health outcomes for people living with hepatitis B and C.[10]

The Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) is dedicated to improving health in the Americas through health promotion, education, and training. Founded in 1968, PAHEF is a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) public charity that works with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other strategic partners in the Americas to mobilize resources and jointly address key health, education, and training priorities. With a deep knowledge of major health concerns and strong relationships with key stakeholders in the region, PAHEF builds successful partnerships and projects that advance health in the Americas.


[1]WHO. Hepatitis: Frequently asked questions. 2011. ( accessed 07/26/11.)
[2] Ibid.
[3] WHO. Hepatitis B fact sheet No. 204. Revised August 2008. ( accessed 07/26/11.)
[4] Lok AS, Heathcote EJ, Hoofnagle JH. Management of hepatitis B: 2000–summary of a workshop. 2006. Gastroenterology 53.
[5] R. G. Gish, A. C. Gadano. Chronic Hepatitis B: Current Epidemiology in the Americas and Implications for Management. 2007. J Viral Hepat. 13(12):787-798. Blackwell Publishing ( accessed 07/26/11)
[6] Fay OH. Hepatitis B in Latin America: Epidemiological patterns and eradication strategy. The Latin American Regional Study Group. Vaccine 1990. 8 (Suppl.): S100-S106.
[7] R. G. Gish, A. C. Gadano.
[8] Fay OH.
[9] WHO. 2011. Hepatitis: frequently asked questions.
[10] Ibid.
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