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Health and wellness

Mongolia shows the way on fighting hepatitis in the Western Pacific: test, treat

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 8:02am

Tumursukh Chagnaa was diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2017, but the virus had already led to cirrhosis of the liver. The 69-year-old retiree from eastern Mongolia worried that her modest pension would not cover treatment costs, with the nearest facility hundreds of kilometres away.

She was relieved to discover that testing and treatment are covered by the health insurance system in Mongolia, now a world leader in combating a high hepatitis burden. “When I received treatment, I felt healthier, and my children were happier,” Chagnaa said.

But for most people with chronic hepatitis, the story does not end happily.

An estimated 130 million people in the Western Pacific region have chronic hepatitis B and C, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and death. Though hepatitis is preventable and treatable, most people do not have access to testing and treatment. They often do not know they have the disease until it is too late.

Indeed, knowing your hepatitis status is the first step – and the theme for this year’s World Hepatitis Day on July 28: “Test. Treat. Hepatitis”.

Treat hepatitis B and you cut the likelihood of developing liver cancer

Nowhere is the burden of hepatitis greater than in the Western Pacific region, which spans the area from China and Mongolia in the west to French Polynesia in the east. Home to one quarter of the world’s people, the region bears nearly half of the global death toll from hepatitis.

Countries in the region have committed to eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. The goal is feasible because we already have the tools to make it happen.

Hepatitis B vaccines effectively prevent new infections in children and adults. Regional immunisation programmes have prevented more than 37 million infections in children born over the past three decades – saving 7 million lives.

Watch: Message from WHO director general on World Hepatitis Day

Low-cost Hepatitis C cure showing good results in Thailand

For those infected, treatment is available. Hepatitis B can be managed with highly effective medicines. And new medicines can cure over 95 per cent of hepatitis C patients within three months.

Now more than ever, we need political leadership and commitment to universal health coverage to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can access prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Working together, we can eliminate hepatitis and make the region healthier, happier and more prosperous. Join us on World Hepatitis Day to make it happen.

Dr Shin Young-soo, regional director for the Western Pacific, World Health Organisation