The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) held a special event yesterday on World Hepatitis Day, recognizing three-time GRAMMY award winner Jon Secada for his work to bring about hepatitis awareness in the Americas. During the event, Jon Secada spoke about his personal experience losing his father to hepatitis C last year. He also spoke of his commitment to educating people in the Americas on the hepatitis viruses throughout his career and through the organization- along with Gregg Allman and Natalie Cole- “Tune In to Hep C”.

Dr. Luis Gerardo Castellanos, PAHO Senior Advisor on communicable diseases, discussed the situation of viral hepatitis in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). He stressed the importance of fighting all five types of hepatitis and the right of everyone infected to be given equal attention. The event also highlighted success stories in Argentina and Cuba, as well as a commitment to scale-up prevention strategies in Jamaica. Closing remarks by Dr. Steven Ault, PAHO Regional Advisor on neglected infectious diseases, emphasized spreading awareness and having compassion for those suffering from hepatitis.

The region has taken steps to carry out a World Health Assembly resolution to reduce disease burden in the region All LAC countries have incorporated hepatitis B vaccines into their immunization programs, and Argentina, Panama and Uruguay have also included vaccinations for hepatitis A. Additionally, PAHO has created the Viral Hepatitis Working Group to provide technical assistance and other support to countries working to build their response to hepatitis.

More about Hepatitis in Latin America and the Caribbean

World Hepatitis Day is celebrated on July 28 to raise awareness of this widespread yet rarely discussed disease. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis and cancer, and can be caused by five different viruses (A, B, C, D and E). Depending on the specific virus, hepatitis can be transmitted through contaminated water and food sources or through direct human contact, such as unsafe sexual practices, blood transfusions (although most blood is now screened for the virus), birth from an infected mother or contaminated needles.

Prevalence of hepatitis B in the LAC region varies from 2-4 percent in each country. The prevalence of hepatitis C is 7-9 million adults. Although more than 50 percent of the population acquires immunity to hepatitis A by the age of 15, it still poses a threat in the region. Hepatitis E is not as common, and little is known about the epidemiology in the LAC region for this type. Hepatitis D is reliant on Hepatitis B for infection and is common among indigenous peoples in the Amazonian region.

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