ISLAMABAD: Around 90pc of people living with hepatitis B and 80pc living with hepatitis C virus in Pakistan are not aware of their illness. This can result in the real possibility of developing fatal liver diseases at some point in their lives and in some cases unknowingly transmitting the infection to others.

This was stated by consultant gastroenterologist Dr Farzana Shafqat at a seminar held at Shifa International Hospital on Friday.

Dr Shafqat said viral hepatitis was one of the leading causes of death globally, accounting for 1.34 million deaths per year which was as many as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. Together, hepatitis B and hepatitis C cause 80pc of liver cancer cases in the world.

She said hepatitis B and C infection can be transferred from mother to their babies. Moreover, an individual with multiple sexual partners, intravenous drug users, healthcare workers, prisoners and other institutionalised people can also acquire the disease.

Fatigue, vascular spiders, enlarged or shrunken liver, enlarged spleen, finger clubbing and bruising are some of the symptoms of the disease, she added.

Dr Shahzad Khan Siddique said Pakistan carries one of the world’s highest burdens of chronic hepatitis and mortality due to liver failures and hepatocellular carcinomas. It is estimated that nearly four million people in the country have been exposed to hepatitis B virus and about eight million to the hepatitis C virus.

“The elimination of viral hepatitis is not just a public health goal it is an individual goal for millions of men, women and children across the world. Every single person could be affected by viral hepatitis and we all have a part to play to achieve elimination,” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2015 nearly 325 million people around the world were living with chronic hepatitis infections and 1.34 million of them died. In reality, both hepatitis B and C are preventable while hepatitis B is manageable and hepatitis C is now curable. Around 95pc of people with hepatitis C can be completely cured within two to three months.

The Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) is one of the most affected by viral hepatitis in the world. Estimates indicate that currently more than 15 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C and 21 million with hepatitis B. Many people in the region still acquire the infection in healthcare settings through unsafe injections or inadequately screened blood transfusions.

Within the EMR region, Pakistan and Egypt bear 80pc of the disease burden and within Pakistan almost 12 million people are suffering from hepatitis B or C. Each year about 150,000 new cases are added. A majority of people catch this infection from the healthcare settings without being aware of it. The disease is called a silent killer because many patients remain undiagnosed and untreated for many years before developing complications and death, the WHO had said in a statement.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2017