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Seeking global strategy

THE first official WHO-supported World Hepatitis Day falls on coming Thursday, and activists and advocates are pressing for a global strategy to combat the infectious disease that's endemic in China.

According to the World Health Organization, around 2 billion people worldwide are infected and 350 million live with chronic infection. An estimated 600,000 people die each year due to the acute or chronic consequences of hepatitis B.

Because of its huge population, China has the highest number of both acutely and chronically infected people.

In China, there are around 93 million cases - including 20 million chronic cases. Around 280,000 people die every year of related cirrhosis and liver cancer.

China has made great efforts to control the disease, including vaccinating all newborns since 2002 and expanding vaccination coverage to people born between 1994 and 2002.

Non-governmental organizations have helped build a bridge between patients and the government, according to Wang Zhao, director of the Wu Jieping Medical Foundation, an NGO. They carry out research, education and advocacy.

Vaccination of newborns was first undertaken on a small scale with vaccines donated to the foundation, then expanded nationwide.

NGOs are also expected to search for innovative ways in which they can help improve the lives of hepatitis patients, according to John Damonti, president of Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, which has been working on hepatitis problems in China since 2002.


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