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WHO announces new guidelines for hepatitis B treatment

A webinar about the guidelines co-hosted by the Hepatitis B Foundation and WHO, during which experts will discuss next steps, is set for April 17.

Doylestown, Pa., March 29, 2024 – The Hepatitis B Foundation is pleased to share the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) has released new “Guidelines for the prevention, diagnosis, care and treatment for people with chronic hepatitis B infection.”

The new guidelines were released today (March 29) at the annual meeting of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver (APASL) in Kyoto, Japan.

Primarily for the general public, the Hepatitis B Foundation has created a simple guide to the new WHO Guidelines and posted the free document here

While there is a goal to eliminate hepatitis B globally by 2030, most of the world is falling short in diagnosing, caring for and treating people with hepatitis B. In 2019, only 10% of the more than 296 million people worldwide with a chronic hepatitis B infection had been diagnosed and just 2% were treated. Meeting the elimination goals and saving lives will require a radical simplification of treatment criteria and care pathways to overcome barriers to access for both hepatitis B testing and treatment. The new WHO guidelines will play a critical role toward this, as they focus on expanding and simplifying treatment criteria for adults, adolescents and pregnant persons, and prioritize improving diagnostics for both hepatitis B and delta.

Hepatitis B Foundation President Chari A. Cohen, DrPH, MPH, said, “These new guidelines are an excellent step forward, opening up more expansive treatment opportunity for people living with hepatitis B and helping us work toward preventing liver damage, liver cancer and premature death.”

The Hepatitis B Foundation partnered with WHO in this endeavor, by ensuring the lived experiences, as well as patient preferences and values for treatment, and care and management, informed the guidelines. Foundation staff coordinated with partners around the world to collect and analyze community and provider data.

“Hepatitis B has a significant impact on the lives of those with hepatitis B and hepatitis delta, and it is essential to include their preferences in all aspects of guideline development,” Dr. Cohen said.

Dr. Cohen and Su Wang, MD, MPH, FACP, the Hepatitis B Foundation’s senior advisor for global health, served on the WHO Guideline Development Group. Dr. Wang participated in a panel discussion at the APASL meeting that discussed the new guidelines and their potential impact.

A worldwide survey of people living with hepatitis B, which was commissioned by WHO and conducted by the Hepatitis B Foundation for the guideline development effort, is the subject of a new open-access article in BMC Public Health that is posted here.   

Globally, it is estimated that 21 countries account for 80% of the total burden of hepatitis B infection within the general population. These countries are found within sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The WHO guidelines are intended to inform and guide testing and treatment for people living with hepatitis B, particularly in regions with a high burden of infection.

In 2015, WHO issued the first comprehensive guidelines on prevention, care and treatment for people with chronic hepatitis B. The new guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations reflecting updated scientific data on antiviral effectiveness, diagnostic performance of tests, and service delivery models.

Major updates to the guidelines expand treatment eligibility to capture at least 50% of people living with hepatitis B (vs. 8%-15% previously) and importantly, include options for treating in settings without access to HBV DNA testing. Additionally, the recommendations for who to treat are now relevant for adolescents and adults aged 12 and over. The guidelines also now recommend reflex HBV DNA testing and the use of point of care HBV DNA tests, where available, and include recommendations for hepatitis delta testing.

To help share the updated recommendations broadly, the Hepatitis B Foundation is co-hosting a webinar with WHO, during which experts will provide and review implementation and dissemination considerations for the next steps, on April 17 at 10 a.m. ET. To register in advance, which is required, please click here.

The Hepatitis B Foundation also has compiled community-designed resources for people living with HBV and their caregivers from community-based organizations across the globe working on viral hepatitis. You can view and share the resources here to help improve hepatitis B awareness in your communities.

About hepatitis B: The world’s most common serious liver infection, chronic hepatitis B, is caused by a virus that attacks and injures the liver. Each year up to 1 million people die from hepatitis B worldwide, even though it is preventable and treatable. Hepatitis B is a “silent epidemic” because most people do not have symptoms when they are newly or chronically infected. Thus, they can unknowingly infect others and continue the spread of hepatitis B. For people who are chronically infected but don’t have any symptoms, their livers still are being silently damaged, which can result in serious liver diseases such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.

About the Hepatitis B Foundation: As the world’s leading hepatitis B advocacy and research organization, the Hepatitis B Foundation is one of the most active proponents of improving hepatitis B screening, prevention, and treatment of the disease. We are the only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to finding a cure for hepatitis B and improving the quality of life for those affected worldwide through research, education and patient advocacy. Founded in 1991, the Hepatitis B Foundation is based in Doylestown, Pa., with offices in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. To learn more, go to www.hepb.org, read our blog at hepb.org/blog, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (@hepbfoundation) or call us at 215-489-4900.