Hepatitis could kill 5 mn in Southeast Asia: WHO

New Delhi: The World Health Organisation (WHO) Tuesday said that over five million people are likely to lose life over the next decade due to viral hepatitis in Southeast Asia region.

The inflammatory disease of the liver affects 100 million with chronic hepatitis B infection in the region, WHO said ahead of the World Hepatitis Day July 28.

"WHO estimates that more than five million people in the Southeast Asia region will die from the consequences of viral hepatitis in the next 10 years. There are an estimated 30 million people with chronic hepatitis C infection in the region," WHO said.

While the UN health agency is focusing on increasing awareness about the disease, it is also aiming at increasing surveillance and resources.

"Viral hepatitis must be given greater priority in terms of both resources and effort. Good surveillance is essential," said Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO`s regional director for Southeast Asia.

"Infant immunisation coverage for hepatitis B must reach levels greater than 95 percent. It should be mandatory for all blood and blood products to be screened for hepatitis B and C," Plianbangchang added.

The most common causes of the viral infection are hepatitis virus A, B, C and E. The infection can cause acute illness with symptoms such as nausea, dark urine, vomiting and abdominal pain.

"About 65 percent of those with hepatitis B and 75 percent of those with hepatitis C do not know they are infected. An effective vaccine has been available to prevent hepatitis B since 1982," the WHO said.

The UN health agency added that it is developing a strategy to prevent and control viral hepatitis in the region.

WHO is bringing health experts from 11 countries who will help finalise the strategy addressing areas of policy, planning and resource mobilisation, surveillance, prevention and control, education, medical care and treatment and research.

"The quality of hepatitis testing in public and private laboratories needs to be monitored. We need widespread public awareness campaigns, targeted at health and social workers as well as the general public, to increase awareness about the risk of viral hepatitis," Plianbangchang said.