A slow and silent killer- Hepatitis

Published by ImmunifyMe on

Only one in 10 infected with Hepatitis virus knows their status. Due to little consciousness on Hepatitis, many are unaware that the inflammation of the liver is a common and treatable disease, if checked in time. 

Effective treatments exist from basic hygiene, precautions to the hepatitis B vaccine but silent and slow nature of the disease coupled with little awareness around it is causing the disease to gain epidemic proportions not just in India but globally.

An article in Down to Earth mentions a study, which showed that only 5% of those eligible for treatment actually received the anti-virus. Approximately 94 million were eligible for treatment in 2016, but literally a fraction of those, just about 4.8 million of them got it. 

While the government is aiming to compile a data base of all the Hepatitis affected populations, but so far India lacks a mechanism to compile data to provide a real picture of its actual prevalence.

Deaths due to Hepatitis

India has more than 40 million hepatitis B (HBV) infected patients, second only to China. India numbers alone constitute about 15% of the entire pool of hepatitis B in the world. 

Similarly, India accounts for approximately 17% of the total number of chronic Hepatitis C cases recorded globally, which is almost 71 million people. 

Estimates suggest that 1.4 million people die each year in the world from Hepatitis B, a daily count of almost 4,000, due to liver cirrhosis (shrunken hard liver) or liver cancer. This is an alarmingly high number of Hepatitis B deaths, considering that it is higher than the counts for HIV/ AIDS and tuberculosis combined.

WHO estimates that about 184 000 people die each year of hepatitis B- and C-related complications in India. Some experts say, that the actual numbers good be actually much higher because no lack of a registry mechanism.

What is viral Hepatitis and how is it transmitted?

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused due to a viral infection. Hepatitis is one of the leading causes for health care burden in developed as well as developing countries.

Viral hepatitis is either transmitted through contaminated food or water (A, E) or via blood and body fluids (B, C). The viruses which get transmitted through water and food are mostly self-limited resulting in acute illness with full resolution. The blood-borne viruses (B, C) are notorious to stick in the body for long, induce life-long scarring, liver cancer and liver cirrhosis.

Hepatitis B and C Virus can be transmitted through blood, semen, and vaginal fluids and it can pass from a mother to a newborn during delivery. Sharing needles, unsafe tattooing, sharing personal hygiene items such as razors or toothbrushes and having unprotected sex also increase the risks.

Is the government doing anything to eradicate Hepatitis infections?

After years of push from health specialists to tackle the menace of Hepatitis and related diseases, the ministry of health and family welfare, last year launched a full-scale National Viral Hepatitis Elimination Program, assuring free diagnosis and treatment for every hepatitis B and C patients. 

Not just at the Centre, the programme mandates the states to adopt the programme. There are also conversations on creating a new web-based application, to facilitate registration and treatment of infected people, ensuring anonymity. This say, health experts, will also help create a more efficient data base of Hepatitis affected.

The government of India has included vaccine of hepatitis B in its vaccination programme. However, hepatitis C has failed to receive the attention of the central government so far.

While there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C so far, state of Punjab started a pilot project in 2015 in the state to help treat those affected by it. Under the Mukha Mantri (Chief Minister’s) Hepatitis-C Relief Fund in Punjab, the state government offers a 12 week treatment course with generic Direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), with a cure rate above 90%, approximately under USD 100, perhaps the lowest in the world. While treatment costs USD 84,000 in the United States, in Egypt, generic competition reduced the price of a 3-month cure for hepatitis from US$900 (2014) to US$180 (2015).

What’s the solution?

While the Hepatitis B vaccination is part of Universal Immunisation Programme, but adherence to schedule is a problem. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C yet but researches are underway.

Hepatitis B vaccine Pediatric dose vaccine recommended for neonates, infants, children and adolescents up-to 19 years of age is a 10 mcg dose (in 0.5 ml suspension) is while the adult dose vaccine is a 20 mcg dose (1.0 ml suspension). A series of three shots at defined intervals can provide a long term shield for the deadly disease. 

Written by – Jaya is an award-winning journalist, with rich experience in public affairs and storytelling. With over 13 years in both media and public relations role, where she has worked with development sector organizations and government in equal measure, she also has a demonstrated history of working as a health and social beat reporter in the newspapers industry. Jaya is a strong, dynamic and innovative media and communication professional with an MS in Journalism Research focused in Communication and Media Studies from E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University, Athens, USA and an MA degree in Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata  

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