The president of APEF, José Presa, quoted in a note sent to Lusa, says that "the Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact at the level of timely diagnosis of hepatitis C, but also its treatment, registering a drop from 4,488 treatments requested in 2019 to 1,682 treatments in the year 2020".

Hepatitis viruses cause inflammation of the liver, which can disappear spontaneously or progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer and are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world, but the disease can also be caused by substances such as alcohol or certain drugs, and by autoimmune diseases.

In the face of declining treatments for hepatitis C, the APEF president stressed the importance of early diagnosis to avoid the problems associated with not treating hepatitis, which can lead to death.

"Untreated hepatitis B and C will mean the evolution to liver cirrhosis, and in some cases, the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. Every 30 seconds a person dies from a hepatitis-related disease. Thus, early diagnosis and subsequent treatment is vital. Even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we cannot wait to act against viral hepatitis," he said.

There are five types of viral hepatitis: hepatitis A is always a short-term acute illness, while hepatitis B, C and D are more likely to become ongoing and chronic; hepatitis E is usually acute, and can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women.

Symptoms vary depending on the type of disease and symptoms may not occur until damage affects liver function, causing fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, yellowish skin and eyes, dark urine, pale stools and abdominal pain.

The treatment also varies according to the type of hepatitis: in the case of acute infection, the patient goes through deprivation of the agent in question, rest and diet, whereas in a chronic situation, treatment is done with specific medicines that prevent the multiplication of the virus.

Although hepatitis is a preventable, treatable and, in the case of hepatitis C, curable disease, it affects 325 million people worldwide, causing 1.4 million deaths per year, which led the World Health Organisation (WHO) to assume the goal of eradicating hepatitis B and C by 2030.

The Directorate General of Health (DGS) also called in May 2021 for free and confidential testing for HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, as part of the European Spring Testing Week 2021, following a decrease in the number of tests performed on a global scale.

In Portugal, according to Infarmed data, from 2015 to 1 July, 2020, 27,239 treatments for hepatitis C were authorised and 26,006 started. The cure rate remains at 97 percent, with 15,909 cured patients and 572 not cured.