By Mehdi Garshasbi

Hepatitis in Iran: 100% of infants being vaccinated

July 30, 2021 - 17:21

TEHRAN – While just 42 percent of infants around the world are being vaccinated against Hepatitis B, in Iran almost all newborn babies receive the vaccine.

Over 354 million people worldwide live with chronic hepatitis; over 8,000 new infections of hepatitis B and C occur every day, and more than one million deaths from advanced liver disease and liver cancer occur every year, according to the World Health Organization.

World Hepatitis Day is celebrated worldwide on July 28. This year the occasion was held with the theme “Hepatitis can’t wait”, calling on all countries to work together to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

Iran is planning to provide free diagnosis and treatment services to people who are suffering from hepatitis and eradicate the disease by 2030.

“By 2030, if we could reduce the incidence of hepatitis by up to 90 percent and decrease mortality by 65 percent, we would have implemented the elimination program as planned by the World Health Organization,” Rashid Ramezani, an official with the Ministry of Health, explained.

“Some 1.5 million Iranians are diagnosed with hepatitis B and less than 200,000 people with hepatitis C; nearly 3,000 people are infected with hepatitis C each year,” he added.

WHO recently launched first-ever global guidance for countries seeking to validate the elimination of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and/or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection as a public health problem. 

While progress has been made in the hepatitis response, there is still a long way to go. In far too many countries, priority interventions remain inaccessible to the populations most severely affected or at higher risk.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impeded the development and delivery of core services that tackle viral hepatitis and other infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

However, only 10 percent of patients are aware of their disease, which increases the importance of awareness and diagnostic programs, he said, regretting, 1.4 million deaths per year are caused by hepatitis.

Just as Iran has succeeded in producing generic drugs for the definitive treatment of hepatitis C under U.S. sanctions, it is now considering eliminating the costly hepatitis C test by researching to develop a simple, low-cost blood test. The project has begun and is in the process of being tested on samples.

Elimination of hepatitis C

Complete control of hepatitis C in Iran with the global “point elimination” strategy needs to address several key challenges. One of these challenges is the lack of accurate statistics on people at high risk for hepatitis C, Amir Ali Sohrabpour, the head of the Iranian Hepatitis Network, has said.

While it is necessary to identify 20,000 patients with hepatitis C in Iran annually, only 10 percent of hepatitis C patients have been identified; Therefore, it seems that the challenge of identifying and accurate statistics of high-risk groups in Iran needs a more immediate solution, he added. 

On the other hand, the provinces with high hepatitis C prevalence have not yet been fully identified but is planned to be done, and the country's medical universities can play an important role, while the prison organization can also help hepatitis network by identifying patients to determine how many prisoners are infected with hepatitis C, he emphasized.

There are 1.5 million drug users in Iran, 300,000 of whom are injecting drugs, but one of the challenges is the need for a full treatment of these high-risk groups, including adequate funding for diagnostic tests and distribution of free medicine, he stated.
 

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