Hepatitis may not command the same publicity as HIV or AIDS, but it kills almost as many people each year.
About 1.4 million people die annually from liver cancer linked to the five types of hepatitis, according to data from the Global Burden of Disease Study. Of these deaths, over a million occur in the Asia-Pacific region.
This is three times the number of people dying from HIV/AIDS each year and eight times the number of malaria deaths in the same region.
Coalition for the Eradication of Viral Hepatitis in Asia-Pacific (CEVHAP) chair and co-founder Ding-Shinn Chen told Devex, “While malaria is rightly considered an African emergency, a silent crisis is occurring in Asia-Pacific as a result of viral hepatitis.”
Hepatitis prevention for expats and travellers
In the U.S., hepatitis A is the most common vaccine-preventable illness acquired during travel. Expats and people visiting regions where the virus is common should receive the vaccine.
The hepatitis A vaccine protects against 95% of cases and, when administered correctly, immunity lasts at least 15 years. If you are moving to Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent or South America see your doctor at least 3 weeks before travelling. The vaccine should be followed up with a booster six to 12 months after the first dose.
A vaccine also exists for hepatitis B, which is administered in two or three doses. The first two provide complete protection, with the idea of the third being to prolong protection. If you’re travelling to an area with a high rate of hepatitis B you need to see your doctor six weeks before leaving.
There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, though several are under development.
Chen called for reforms in addressing the killer disease in the areas of improving available resources, extending existing HIV/AIDS frameworks to viral hepatitis, and increasing access to medicines, which remains a major challenge in developing countries.