As many as 111 people die in the country daily due to complications of Hepatitis B and C which are preventable and treatable diseases but have become a silent killer in Pakistan, said medical experts on Friday.
Warning that viral hepatitis could become the “second polio for Pakistan”, leading gastroenterologists and hepatologists said the world was aiming to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030 but if Pakistan is not able to control its spread, it could face harsh travel restrictions.
Addressing a press conference in connection with World Hepatitis Day, observed worldwide on July 28 (today), eminent gastroenterologist Prof Saeed Hamid said that more than 40,000 people die annually in the country due to complications of Hepatitis B and C – inflammation of the liver.
“This means that 111 people are losing their lives daily due to these preventable and treatable viral diseases in our country,” he said. The press conference and a public awareness seminar had been organised by the Pakistan Society for the Study of Liver Diseases (PSSLD) to mark World Hepatitis Day 2018.
Leading gastroenterologists and hepatologists, including Prof Wasim Jaffri, Prof Zaigham Abbass, Prof Saleh Muhammad Channa, Prof Lubna Kamani, Dr Abdul Qayyum
Memon, Dr Bashir Ahmed Shaikh and others addressed the gathering.
Prof Hamid, who is the former president of the PSSLD, said Hepatitis B and C were killing more people than the combined deaths by tuberculosis (TB), dengue fever, malaria and HIV/AIDS in Pakistan. Fortunately, a majority of hepatitis-caused deaths are preventable and the diseases are 100 per cent treatable, he added.
“Hepatitis C spreads through infected blood and if we make people aware about its transmission, this disease can be prevented,” he said. “Infected blood transfusion is another cause of transmission so if only screened blood is transfused, Hepatitis B and C infections can be prevented.”
He added that Hepatitis B could also be prevented through vaccination, which was now part of the country’s child immunisation programme. The professor further informed that Hepatitis B and C were treatable now due to the emergence of very effective drugs. He said the medicines were available at affordable prices in Pakistan, and most of these drugs were also of international standards.
He said the world is aiming to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. But in Pakistan the challenge is to find the missing millions who are unaware that they are infected and getting them the appropriate care.
Prof Zaigham Abbas from Ziauddin Hospital said 4.5 to 5 million people in Pakistan were infected with Hepatitis B alone, adding that the rate of infection was very high in Balochistan where more than 10 per cent of people were infected in 9 to 10 districts, while more than 5 per cent were infected in 15 districts of Sindh and Punjab.
“The only option available to combat this menace is vaccination against Hepatitis B ,” he said. Abbas urged the authorities to start giving the first dose of Hepatitis B vaccination on the first day of a child’s birth as this minimises the chances of catching the infection.
Prof Dr Saleh Muhammad Channa spoke about Hepatitis D or Delta in Sindh, saying its prevalence was very high in Ghotki district and its surrounding areas. He said it was a lethal disease whose treatment was very difficult but added that Hepatitis D could also be prevented through Hepatitis B vaccination.
Prof Lubna Kamani feared that Hepatitis could become the “second polio for Pakistan” as the world was heading towards its elimination by 2030 but in Pakistan, a majority of people were not even aware that they are infected and are unknowingly transmitting to others.
Calling for mass screening for Hepatitis B and C, Prof Abdul Qayyum Memon said a majority of people were unaware that they were infected with lethal viruses and by the time they are diagnosed, their condition becomes untreatable. Prof Zahid Azam from Dow University of Health Sciences said they had started collecting data on patients to launch a National Hepatitis Registry.
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