LatAm’s fight for a healthier tomorrow

The region's efforts to defeat Hepatitis.

On July 28th, the World Health Organization (“WHO”) marked the international day against hepatitis to shed light on the global burden of this illness. Disturbingly, the most recent figures reported by the Pan-American Health Organization (“PAHO”) revealed that in 2019, an estimated 2.6 million people in Latin America were living with chronic hepatitis C, with an even higher number of 5.4 million people affected by hepatitis B across the Americas. 

Within the region, Brazil and Paraguay emerged as countries with a higher number of new hepatitis B cases, reporting 913.2 and 905.28 cases per 100,000 people, respectively. These figures highlight the slow progress in preventing and eliminating hepatitis, despite efforts to increase access to vaccinations and treatments. An international health consultant commented, “On a recent UNICEF report on the State of the World’s Children, the figures were alarming: one in four children in the [LatAm] region do not have their full vaccination schedule against infections such as hepatitis B, but there is also a high number of children who have not received any doses.” 

“…one in four children in the [LatAm] region do not have their full vaccination schedule against infections such as hepatitis B, but there is also a high number of children who have not received any doses.”

An international health consultant, LatAm

To address this pressing issue, the Ministry of Health of Brazil launched a hepatitis prevention campaign in July 2022, emphasising the importance of early diagnosis. The Brazilian public health system (“SUS”) provides treatment to diagnosed patients. Similarly, Paraguay incorporated a diagnoses and prevention strategy into its 2015-2030 National Health Plan. “It is important for governments to strengthen prevention and control strategies,” reported the university lecturer with more than 20 years of experience in multilateral organisations, “because the numbers infected can rise rapidly, putting further strain on health systems and creating a public health problem that can claim the lives of thousands of people, especially those with the least resources.”  

PAHO plays a crucial role in coordinating and decentralising strategies for education, testing, follow-up and access to treatment, while fostering partnerships across the continent. “In 2016, a global strategy was created to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C by 2030” and the organisation’s Disease Elimination Initiative offers an innovative approach to accelerate progress towards ending communicable diseases, including hepatitis, in the region. “In general, PAHO provides a great deal of support to governments in strengthening epidemiological surveillance and monitoring systems for hepatitis,” continued the consultant “as well as joining forces with countries to encourage and improve prevention, control, diagnosis, treatment and immunisation programmes.” 

Despite these coordination efforts, Latin American countries continue to grapple with the high cost of hepatitis treatments. Our source explained that “in Mexico, there have been many problems because pharmaceutical companies hold on to patents and raise prices that become unaffordable.” Various nations have adopted different strategies to address this challenge while predominantly relying on centralised purchasing. For instance, in early July, Farmanguinhos, a pharmaceutical laboratory associated with the Brazilian Ministry of Health, signed an agreement with Pharco Pharmaceuticals, an Egyptian pharma company, to register a drug for hepatitis C with Anvisa, the national health agency. This marks the initial step towards incorporating the drug into SUS and making it more accessible to patients in need. In Colombia, a centralised system for medication purchases has resulted in significant cost savings, amounting to approximately USD 147 million to date. 

“the best way to improve vaccination campaigns is to raise people’s awareness of hepatitis, its symptoms and its consequences.”

Expert at an international organisations in the health sector, LatAm 

As Latin American countries continue their battle against hepatitis, coordinated efforts, national plans and PAHO’s Disease Elimination Initiative will play a pivotal role in driving progress. “I believe that the best way to improve vaccination campaigns is to raise people’s awareness of hepatitis, its symptoms and its consequences,” confirmed the source who works with international organisations in the health sector.

Thankfully, there is ongoing commitment to prevention campaigns, early diagnosis and improved access to affordable treatments, which are all crucial to combatting the burden of hepatitis. Through collaborative partnerships and continued dedication to eliminating this disease, Latin America can strive towards a brighter and healthier tomorrow for its people. 

 

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