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Hepatitis: the silent killer

August 7, 2018
By R. Khan

In the ongoing quest to spread awareness regarding Hepatitis, a public awareness seminar was organised by the Pakistan Society for the Study of Liver Diseases (PSSLD) in Karachi. You! takes a look...

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In the ongoing quest to spread awareness regarding Hepatitis, a public awareness seminar was organised by the Pakistan Society for the Study of Liver Diseases (PSSLD) in Karachi. You! takes a look...

Unknown to most people, hepatitis has become one of the most fatal diseases in Pakistan. According to a report quoting medical experts as many as 111 people die daily due to complications of hepatitis B and C. On 28th July, we celebrated ‘Word Hepatitis Day’ globally. In light of that, it is heartening to see that efforts are being made to spread much needed awareness in Pakistan; such as the public awareness seminar organised by the Pakistan Society for the Study of Liver Diseases (PSSLD).

The seminar was addressed by leading medical professionals of the country like Prof Wasim Jaffri, Prof Zaigham Abbass, Prof Saleh Muhammad Channa, Prof Lubna Kamani, Dr Abdul Qayyum Memon and Dr Bashir Ahmed Shaikh. Speaking at the event, Aga Khan University (AKU) professor of medicine, Dr Saeed Hamid, revealed that hepatitis B and C had been killing more people in Pakistan than combined deaths due to TB, dengue fever, malaria and HIV/AIDS. Further elaborating on the spread of the disease, Dr Zaigham Abbas said, “The rate of hepatitis B infection was very high in some districts of Balochistan, where in 9 -10 districts, over 10 percent people were infected with the said virus. While in 15 districts of Sindh and Punjab, over 5 per cent people were infected with this viral hepatitis. The only option available to combat this menace is vaccination against Hepatitis B. And fortunately, this infection is not only preventable through vaccination but can also be treated with the availability of modern medicines.”

Combating the disease

With the lack of dedicated hepatitis surveillance system and, resultantly, inadequate epidemiological data at the federal and provincial levels, it potentially leave millions without access to targeted and timely healthcare services. However, there are steps taken to change this scenario.

Last year in October, the country’s first-ever National Hepatitis Strategic Framework 2017-2021 was launched. Its target is to reduce hepatitis B virus - and Hepatitis C virus - related deaths by 10 per cent, and new cases of infections by 30 per cent, and with the broader goal of eliminating this disease as a major public health threat by 2030. Commenting on the lack of awareness, Dr Hamid highlighted, “Despite the high death rates, most people with chronic infection are unaware that they carry the virus. They are therefore at high risk of developing severe chronic liver disease and can unknowingly transmit the virus to other people.” However, the eminent gastroenterologist, Dr Hamid, further informed that Hepatitis B and C were 100 per cent curable and treatable diseases now due to emergence of very effective drugs, saying medicines for the treatment of Hepatitis B and C were available on quite affordable prices in Pakistan, while most of these drugs were also of international standards.

With a new framework from the World Health Organisation, and as members of the Coalition for the Eradication of Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific (CEVHAP), the doctors urged all governments across the region to form national strategies and ensure viral hepatitis receives the attention it needs.

Also, keeping in mind the recently concluded general elections, many prominent political parties had proposed solutions to our basic civic problems - like issues of sewerage and garbage disposal that we have been facing since ages - in their agendas. A step towards resolving these problems will also reduce the spread of the disease in the country. In light of that, health officials and NGOs as well as the civic bodies were encouraged to make the most of this opportunity. They were asked to persuade the new government at the federal and provincial levels to take up these vital issues on a priority basis.

Preventive measures

Hepatitis is spread through different means; A and E is transmitted through contaminated food and water, hepatitis B through blood and other bodily fluids and hepatitis C through blood. However, once the hepatitis B virus enters the body it never goes away. The virus can only be controlled through medicine, so it is imperative to take preventive measures seriously. AKU assistant professor of medicine, Dr Qayyum Memon, suggested some of these methods at the seminar. “We can protect ourselves from hepatitis viruses if we get vaccination, use safe water and food, take care of personal hygiene and use new sterilised needles and syringes. These viruses are transmitted through different routes so it is best to use boiled water as it is safe and cheap,” he explained.

Dr Zaigham Abbas also urged the authorities to start giving the first dose of hepatitis B vaccination on the first day of a child’s birth, saying chances of children infected with Hepatitis B become very minimal.