REPORTS that cases of hepatitis C are rising in several districts of Sindh are both alarming and further proof of lack of monitoring and regulation of the health sector on the part of the provincial government. In a recent survey conducted by the WHO and the Sindh health department across the province, cases of hepatitis C have risen from 5pc to 6.1pc, in contrast to hepatitis B infections which have registered a decrease. Almost 6,000 patients were screened for hepatitis B, C and HIV. At the moment, the provincial hepatitis programme caters to only 72,000 cases a year, when it needs to treat at least 200,000 annually.
Such a state of affairs paints a dismal picture of disease prevention and control. For a number of years, Pakistan has had the second-highest number of hepatitis C cases in the world. The national rate of hepatitis C prevalence hovers between 4pc and 8pc, with an estimated 150,000 new cases being reported every day. However, these figures are just the tip of the iceberg; as the survey suggests, the actual disease burden may be even higher than what the published numbers say. These alarming facts can largely be attributed to poor regulation of health professionals and healthcare set-ups, since more than 70pc of infections are found in those who visit hospitals or local clinics for medical treatment. The use of contaminated medical equipment and syringes by unqualified medics or poorly trained hospital staff has remained a long-standing issue that the government has repeatedly failed to address. Meanwhile, the disease also spreads through the transfusion of contaminated blood and improperly sterilised dialysis machines. The reuse of razors at barbershops and sharing of needles, often by addicts, are also responsible. In many ways, the high prevalence of hepatitis C is a testament to the government’s abject neglect of the health sector and continued laxity that has allowed unsafe medical practices by unqualified medics to flourish in the country. The authorities should immediately take steps to rectify the situation.
Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2022