About eight million people in Vietnam are infected with hepatitis B or C virus, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO Vietnam Country Office released the statistics on July 28 on the occasion of the second World Hepatitis Day.

WHO says globally, approximately 500 million people – or 1 in every 12 – live with either hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Yet awareness of the infections and their risk factors remains very low. If left untreated and unmanaged, hepatitis B and C can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis. In Vietnam , liver cancer is the second leading cause of death in men.

“Developing national policies for the diagnosis and treatment of chronic hepatitis B and C infections are critical priorities to prevent people from developing cirrhosis and liver cancer, and to avoid the associated deaths,” says Dr. Fabio Mesquita, Senior Advisor on HIV at the WHO Vietnam Country Office.

In Vietnam , routine immunisation for hepatitis B has been implemented for the past ten years. In 2011, fifty-five percent of newborns received a dose of hepatitis B vaccination at birth, and the coverage for the additional three dose vaccination reached 95 percent.

According to a 2011 survey, this resulted in a reduction of hepatitis B infection in children aged five in Vietnam to approximately two percent.

World Hepatitis Day was created two years ago as an opportunity to raise awareness of the different forms of hepatitis

The WHO is calling on countries and partners to develop effective and targeted strategies to respond to the hepatitis challenge and raise awareness of this hidden disease.

WHO is currently developing new guidance for screening, care and treatment of chronic hepatitis B and C infections and is supporting countries to make that treatment more accessible and affordable.-VNA