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400 people losing life to hepatitis in Pakistan daily

By Muhammad Qasim
July 30, 2018

Rawalpindi : Viral hepatitis has been one of the deadliest health threats to population in Pakistan for years as on average, it claims nearly 150,000 lives every year being a direct cause of death or as co-morbidity and it means that over 400 people are losing life to hepatitis every day here in the country.

According to estimates, well over 18 million people in Pakistan are infected with hepatitis B and C amounting to over nine per cent of country’s population while every fifth death in Sindh province is being attributed to hepatitis B and C and it is believed that 20 to 25 per cent of population there is infected with the deadly viral disease.

Medically hepatitis is defined as inflammation of the liver while viral hepatitis refers to hepatitis caused by a few specific viruses including A, B, C, D, E, F (not confirmed), and G that primarily attack the liver and are responsible for about half of all human hepatitis. The most common hepatitis viruses are types A, B, and C while viral hepatitis types B and C can cause chronic hepatitis.

Vice Chancellor Rawalpindi Medical University Professor Dr. Muhammad Umar prepared a presentation for junior doctors, medical students and medical staff at the allied hospitals in connection with World Hepatitis Day observed on July 28.

He said the presentation was prepared to convince health professionals in the region to work for reduction of the disease burden by following five principles including educating peers, raising awareness, enabling common people, facilitating collaborations and becoming vocal ambassadors so that the target set by WHO of elimination of hepatitis B and C from the world by 2030 can be achieved.

Talking to ‘The News’, Dr. Umar said that hepatitis has emerged as a fatal epidemic in the country in last one decade but still there may be hundreds of thousands of viral hepatitis patients in Pakistan who are unaware of their status. His presentation reveals that only 20% of those living with hepatitis C and less than 10% living with hepatitis B are aware of their condition around the globe.

The presentation also reveals that in 2016, the World Health Organization’s Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis was adopted by 194 countries having target of elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030. If countries meet a set of prevention and treatment targets, annual deaths will drop by 65% and over 10 million lives can be saved by 2030, he said.

Dr. Umar said only 20 per cent of people infected with hepatitis C and nine per cent living with hepatitis B are aware of their status and in raising awareness about diagnosis, print and electronic media along with social media campaigns can play a great role.

Head of Community Medicine at CMH Lahore Medical College Professor Dr. Ashraf Chaudhry also shared his views with ‘The News’ in connection with World Hepatitis Day saying Pakistan is among 11 countries of the world where 50% of the global burden of chronic hepatitis exists. Pakistan has the second highest number of viral hepatitis patients after China. Thousands of people are annually dying in the prime years of age who can be saved by proper screening and treatment, which is now very cost-effective, easy and in the financial range of most people, he said.

WHO is urging countries to take rapid action to improve knowledge about the disease and to increase access to testing and treatment services. Today, only one in 20 people with viral hepatitis know they have it. And just one in 100 with the disease is being treated. This can result in real possibility of developing fatal liver disease at some point in their lives and in some cases unknowingly transmitting the infection to others, said Dr. Ashraf.

He said to control spread of hepatitis, government should make hepatitis screening certificate mandatory to be filled at the time of issuance of CNICs to citizens to know the actual number of patients infected with viral hepatitis in the country. Government should also to arrange free screening of hepatitis B and C, which would allow people knowing whether they are infected as most of them are not aware about it till they turn chronic patients, he said.

He added that rapid scale of testing and treatment can be achieved through political leadership, and reduction in the prices of essential medicines and diagnostics.