The World Health Organisation (WHO) says viral hepatitis is increasingly becoming the leading cause of death in the world.

Strategic advisor at TB/HIV Care Association Dr Andrew Scheibe says hepatitis is a silent killer because often people with hepatitis don’t know they are infected until it is too late.

Scheibe says they will hold events ahead of World Hepatitis Day later this month in order to assess South Africa’s response to the disease.

“Because things are not on the agenda or spoken about often, there isn’t a lot of emphasis on doing research and getting an understanding of the numbers. So what our study was trying to do was to try and get a sense of what’s the picture in the South African context, for people who we know could be at risk for hepatitis.

“So we look at specifically hepatitis B and C to get a sense of is there a problem and if there is to inform the services that government and stakeholders should provide to move towards the illumination of hepatitis,” Scheibe explains.

Dr Scheibe has called on people born before 1994 to test for hepatitis as vaccines were not available by then.

Scheibe adds that they are experiencing some problems with hepatitis C as the medication is yet to be registered in South Africa.

“In terms of hepatitis C, it’s a bit more challenging because many of the people who’re at risk or living with hepatitis C are marginalised from society. So many of them may be living on the streets and it is particularly people who use drugs and those that inject drugs who are often not offered hepatitis C treatment. And the medications which are available for Hepatitis C are still waiting to be registered by the South African regulatory authorities and once that becomes registered it will be available in certain sectors but cost is still a major factor.”