Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

We worked with community organizations, religious groups, the public and private sectors, tech companies and many other groups to fight the infodemic.

And we have formed the ACT Accelerator to speed up the development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

We have done an incredible amount, but we still have a long, hard road ahead of us.

And we know that the impacts of the pandemic are felt far beyond the suffering caused by the virus itself.

Many essential health services have been disrupted, including for hepatitis.

Tomorrow is World Hepatitis Day.

There are five main strains of the hepatitis virus.

The two most common types, B and C, cause liver damage and liver cancer.

An estimated 325 million people globally live with hepatitis B or C, and each year these viruses kill an estimated 1.3 million people.

In 2016, the World Health Assembly adopted the global hepatitis strategy, setting the world’s first hepatitis elimination targets.

The strategy calls for the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030 – reducing new infections by 90% and mortality by 65%.

Even talking about hepatitis elimination would have once seemed a fantasy.

But new drugs have transformed hepatitis C from a lifelong, deadly disease into one that in most cases can be cured in 12 weeks – although in many countries the medicines remain expensive and out of reach for many patients.

Still, many countries are making incredible progress.

Egypt has tested more than 60 million people for hepatitis C, and linked those who test positive to treatment free of charge.

We are also seeing some progress with hepatitis B elimination, for example in Asia where childhood hepatitis B immunization coverage is high, including the all-important birth dose.

Today we are celebrating more good news:

New research led by WHO and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that together we have achieved the global target set in 2000 to reduce the prevalence of hepatitis B infections in children under five years of age to less than 1% by 2020.

This landmark achievement means we will dramatically reduce the number of cases of liver cancer and cirrhosis in future generations.

However, progress is being hampered by low coverage of hepatitis B vaccine in some regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where many children still miss out on the all-important vaccine dose at birth. 

One of the most significant challenges we face in eliminating hepatitis B is mother-to-child transmission.

Tomorrow, WHO is launching new guidelines for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B.

We call on countries – especially those with the highest burden – to implement these new guidelines as an important stepping stone on the road to hepatitis elimination.

That road has been made harder by COVID-19.

Services for prevention, testing and treatment have been disrupted, supply chains are being interrupted, limited financial and human resources are being diverted and the political focus has shifted to containing the pandemic and economic recovery.

All of which means there is a real risk we could lose the gains we have made.

Like so many diseases, hepatitis is not just a health problem. It’s an enormous social and economic burden.

As we mark 6 months since the declaration of the global health emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic is illustrating that health is not a reward for development, it’s the foundation of social, economic and political stability.

We are not prisoners of the pandemic. Every single one of us can make a difference. The future is in our hands.

WHO remains totally committed to serving all people and all countries with science, solutions and solidarity.

I thank you.

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