WHO supports the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to take concrete steps to end viral hepatitis

With WHO support and guidance, the Ministry of Health of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia gathered national and international experts to review the challenges and agree on the outline of the first ever national action plan towards eliminating hepatitis. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 50 people living in the country are affected by chronic hepatitis B or C, although precise data is lacking and many are unaware of their infection. Viral hepatitis is a priority for collaboration between the Ministry of Health and WHO.

On 23–24 March 2018, participants in a technical consultation in Skopje, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, identified best ways to strengthen prevention, control and management of viral hepatitis in the country, and priorities for the next 4 years. A national technical working group was established to support the Ministry of Health in the development of the action plan and in overseeing its implementation.

Involving civil society

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is among the champions in south-eastern Europe of a comprehensive and inclusive approach to fighting hepatitis. For the first time, it involved in the consultation a wide range of stakeholders, including several national civil society organizations and representatives of international patients groups, such as the World Hepatitis Alliance and the European Liver Patients’ Association, who joined the meeting as invited speakers.

Addressing challenges to end viral hepatitis

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the universal newborn vaccination programme against hepatitis B, implemented since 2004, has reached over 95% coverage with the birth dose, achieving the WHO European Region target before the 2020 deadline. It will ensure protection of future generations against hepatitis B and its complications, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

However, the high costs of diagnostics and medicines hamper diagnosis and limit access to new life-saving treatment for chronic hepatitis B and C. The action plan outlined at the meeting aims to address these challenges through measures that increase the financial coverage and reduce costs, resulting in better access to hepatitis services.