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The WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis (the Centre), Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) was designated on 1 June 2015 as one of only five Collaborating Centres for Viral Hepatitis globally. The Centre performs a broad range of activities supporting national and global control of viral hepatitis, including basic research and reference virology, surveillance, treatment and prevention initiatives, and training and regional capacity building. In addition, the Centre is active in public health policy development and assists the WHO in implementing the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis.

In conjunction with the designation as a WHO Regional Reference Laboratory for Hepatitis B in 2010, the Centre assists the WHO and Western Pacific Regional Office for the WHO (WPRO) with advice and support for approaches to the prevention and management of viral hepatitis, and provides reference testing for samples collected as part of national serosurveys conducted across the Western Pacific Region. The Centre also enables VIDRL and the Doherty Institute to extend the scope and geographic reach of their research, training and regional capacity building activities related to viral hepatitis in collaboration with the WHO, other WHO Collaborating Centres and research partners to support the global agenda for viral hepatitis control.

As one of only five designated Collaborating Centres for Viral Hepatitis located around the world - including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US - the new Centre will be based within the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s (RMH) Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute and will work across a range of activities including surveillance, treatment and prevention initiatives. In addition, it will also develop policy and assist the WHO to implement its Global Health Sector Strategy on the virus.

WHO designation will enable the Doherty Institute to integrate its existing viral hepatitis programs into the global research arena. Working in collaboration with the WHO and other member states, the program at the Doherty Institute will focus on disease pathogenesis; diagnostics; prevention and evaluation of patterns of disease; and treatment responses on a global scale.

This designation comes as viral hepatitis is increasingly recognised as a public health priority. Around 240 million people are estimated to be living with hepatitis B and 170 million with hepatitis C. In 2013, 1.4 million people worldwide died due to viral hepatitis, equal to the number of deaths caused by HIV. Ninety per cent of these lives are lost due to cirrhosis and liver cancer caused by chronic hepatitis B and C. In Australia, viral hepatitis affects over 450,000 people and is the leading cause of liver cancer - the fastest increasing cause of cancer deaths nationally.

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