LOS ANGELES, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- New data shows that 52 million children are living with viral hepatitis worldwide, compared to 2.1 million children living with HIV/AIDS.
New analysis presented at this year's World Hepatitis Summit in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Nov. 1-3 said that an estimated 325 million people were living with viral hepatitis worldwide in 2016. Of these, 4 million were children living with hepatitis C (under 19 years) and 48 million (under 18 years) were children living with hepatitis B. Both viruses can lead to liver disease, liver cancer and deaths.
The analysis was conducted by Manal El-Sayed, professor of pediatrics at Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt, and the Polaris Observatory, led by Dr. Homie Razavi with the Center for Disease Analysis Foundation in Colorado, the United States.
"Children are suffering a huge burden of viral hepatitis worldwide, and the public health implications of this are enormous," Raquel Peck, CEO of the World Hepatitis Alliance, was quoted as saying in a news release. "Most infected infants and children are not diagnosed, prioritized or treated effectively."
Just 21 countries are responsible for around 80 percent of these pediatric hepatitis C infections, with the highest prevalence rates generally found in developing countries, according to the analysis.
Mother-to-child transmission is one of the main causes of hepatitis C in children. However, neither pregnant women nor young children with this cancer-causing illness can be treated with the highly-effective direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications.
"Governments and global health organizations must ensure all children are vaccinated for hepatitis B and provided with DAAs for hepatitis C, and that all pregnant women are screened," said Charles Gore, president of the World Hepatitis Alliance.
Cases of hepatitis C in children are, however, likely to continue growing for years to come, given the lack of prevention and control programs for pregnant women living with hepatitis C and women of child bearing age, according to researchers. This is exacerbated by the absence of a public health approach for case definition and management of expectant mothers or children.
"We must act and treat as many children as possible. The economic and social benefit of early hepatitis C treatment in children is substantial," said El-Sayed.
"This includes avoiding disease progression, removing social stigma and improving activity and school performance, and reducing fatigue. However, the fundamental principle is to avoid transmission by adopting 'cure as prevention' at an early age and before high-risk behaviors emerge that enable transmission," the professor explained.
"Children are the future." Peck concluded. "It's imperative that we get it right from the beginning and give them the best possible start in life. Without eliminating viral hepatitis amongst children, its elimination will be impossible."
According to the Global Burden of Disease study released in September, deaths caused by viral hepatitis have surpassed all chronic infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.