WHO Issues First Guidance for Treating HCV

It coincides with recent medical breakthroughs that have made more effective, safer oral hepatitis medicines available.

The World Health Organization recently issued its first guidance for treating hepatitis C, making nine key recommendations -- including approaches to increase the number of people screened for hepatitis C infection, advice for mitigating liver damage for people who are infected, and explaining how to provide appropriate treatments for chronic HCV infection.

Chronic infection affects an estimated 130-150 million people worldwide and causes 350,000 to 500,000 deaths per year.

These "WHO Guidelines for the screening, care and treatment of persons with hepatitis C infection" coincide with recent medical breakthroughs that have made more effective, safer oral hepatitis medicines available. And more new medicines are expected in the next few years.

"The WHO recommendations are based on a thorough review of the best and latest scientific evidence," said Dr. Stefan Wiktor, who leads WHO’s Global Hepatitis Programme. "The new guidance aims to help countries to improve treatment and care for hepatitis and thereby reduce deaths from liver cancer and cirrhosis."

"Hepatitis C treatment is currently unaffordable to most patients in need. The challenge now is to ensure that everyone who needs these drugs can access them," added Dr. Peter Beyer, senior advisor for the Essential Medicines and Health Products Department at WHO. "Experience has shown that a multi-pronged strategy is required to improve access to treatment, including creating demand for treatment. The development of WHO guidelines is a key step in this process."

The guidelines provide recommendations on existing treatments based on interferon injections and new regimens that solely use oral medicines. WHO will update the recommendations on drug treatments as additional antiviral medicines are registered on the market and based on new evidence.

Rates of new HCV infections are "unacceptably high in many countries because of the reuse of injection equipment and lack of screening of blood transfusions," according to the agency.

"Many people remain unaware, sometimes for decades, that they are infected with hepatitis C," said Dr. Andrew Ball, senior advisor for Policy, Strategy and Equity for WHO’s HIV/AIDS Department, where the Global Hepatitis Programme is housed. "Today's launch highlights the need for more awareness and education on hepatitis for the general public. Greater awareness on the risks associated with hepatitis C should lead to a demand for services and expansion of laboratory capacity and clinical services so that more people can be tested, treated and cured."

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