World Hepatitis Day was first celebrated in 2008, organised by the World Hepatitis Alliance. However, this is the first time the campaign has been formally endorsed by the WHO.
The WHO said it is seeking to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases that it causes and will take the opportunity to highlight screening, prevention and control.
Increasing hepatitis B vaccine coverage and the integration of this vaccine into national immunisation programmes will be a priority, along with focusing on ongoing efforts to coordinate a global response to hepatitis.
Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer, according to the WHO.
These viruses pose “a major global health risk” with around 350 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis B and around 170 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis C.
A vaccine against hepatitis A has been available since the mid-1990s, while the first hepatitis B vaccine was approved in the early 1980s. These vaccines have been widely used and have reduced the rates of hepatitis infection.
The awareness day comes in the wake of some good news in the fight against hepatitis. Better access to hepatitis B vaccines is expected following the GAVI pledging conference in June.
Companies making vaccines in the developing world have agreed to offer their products to GAVI at lower prices, including the pentavalent vaccine which protects against heptatitis B, as well as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib).