WHO calls for better monitoring of viral hepatitis and liver cancer

WHO is sharing a new surveillance protocol to improve understanding of the link between viral hepatitis and its 2 main consequences: cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (a key type of liver cancer).

Viral hepatitis B and C infections lead to an estimated 1.34 million deaths every year. Most of these deaths are caused by untreated chronic hepatitis infections resulting in cirrhosis and liver cancer. In fact, chronic hepatitis B and C infections are thought to be responsible for about 2 thirds of all cases of liver cancer globally.

However, existing national monitoring systems do not collect death reports with sufficient detail to measure the exact gravity of this important cause of mortality. In national statistics systems, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma/liver cancer are provided as the causes of death without attribution to the original cause – viral hepatitis.

WHO shared the new protocol today at the Congress of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver. It will be implemented at a network of clinics ("centres of excellence") where hepatologists, gastroenterologists and other health-care providers treating cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma patients can start documenting mortality causes and other data more accurately. Their improved documentation will contribute to obtaining more accurate data on the scope of the problem at regional and global levels.

Better understanding of the linkages between viral hepatitis and liver cancer will be key to improving global and national policies and strategies to reduce deaths caused by both diseases.

In 2016, the World Health Assembly endorsed a resolution calling for the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. Elimination is defined as a 90% reduction in new cases and a 65% reduction in mortality. By unveiling the link between viral hepatitis and its deadly consequences, the new protocol will help assemble more accurate data to guide progress towards the elimination goal.