Hepatitis killing three to four times more people than Covid-19, warn experts

Published July 28, 2021
In this file photo, a health worker gives a hepatitis vaccination  to a flood affected boy at a makeshift school on higher ground in southern Sindh. — AFP
In this file photo, a health worker gives a hepatitis vaccination to a flood affected boy at a makeshift school on higher ground in southern Sindh. — AFP

KARACHI: Health experts and medical scientists have warned that the hepatitis B and C viral infections are a “pandemic within a pandemic”, which are claiming three to four times more lives in Pakistan than Covid-19. They called for immediate measures for the prevention, screening and treatment of the disease.

They were speaking at an awareness session held on Tuesday at the Karachi Press Club in collaboration with Pakistan GI and Liver Diseases Society (PGLDS) in connection with World Hepatitis Day 2021, to highlight the global burden of viral hepatitis and to call for its elimination from the world by 2030. They stressed the need to have equal focus on hepatitis B and C.

“Hepatitis is three to four times more lethal viral infection in Pakistan where around 300 to 325 people are dying daily due to complications of hepatitis B and C,” said Dr Lubna Kamani, president of PGLDS. “On the other hand, Covid-19 deaths hardly cross the figure of 100 in a single day. So there is a need to have equal focus on the prevention, screening and treatment of hepatitis B and C in the country. It needs collective effort from health fraternity, government and the masses. We have to move fast before it goes out of control.”

‘There is a need to have equal focus on the prevention, screening and treatment of hepatitis B and C’

Dr Kamani, who is also a gastroenterologist associated with the Liaquat National Hospital and Aga Khan University, claimed that around 150,000 new cases of hepatitis B and C were emerging in Pakistan where the combined number of viral hepatitis patients was over 15 million, which is the largest number of people living with hepatitis B and C here after China.

“Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne diseases, which means that they are spread through an exchange of infected blood by using infected syringes, IV drips, unsterilized equipment used by dentists, needles for piercing etc. People should avoid getting injections and IV drips as much as possible,” she added.

Another leading gastroenterologist associated with the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Dr Nazish Butt, said hepatitis B and C were silent killers and if a person is infected with either of the virus, it remains silent in the body for years, damaging the liver of the infected person.

“The hepatitis B and C infections only come to the knowledge of an infected person when they are screened for some surgery or procedure or their liver is damaged to an extent where nothing can be done for them,” she said and added that the government should launch mass screenings for hepatitis B and C in the country to ascertain its true burden on Pakistan.

Patron of the PGLDS Prof Dr Shahid Ahmed said awareness of hepatitis B and C was key to its prevention and treatment, saying it was now a treatable viral infection and added that dozens of non-governmental organisations and government health facilities were not only screening people for viral hepatitis but were also providing free medicines for its treatment.

Other experts, including Dr Amanullah Abbasi from Dow University of Health Sciences and Dr Sajjad Jamil from the Liaquat National Hospital, said awareness of hepatitis and other factors detrimental to liver was very low in society and urged the media to play its role in highlighting the preventive measures as well as vaccination against hepatitis B, Covid-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Published in Dawn, July 28th , 2021

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