ISLAMABAD: While the hepatitis day is observed across the globe on July 28, Pakistan is facing a considerable high disease burden due to the viral hepatitis B and C.

Around 15 million people are estimated to be infected with viral hepatitis C and another five million with viral hepatitis B in Pakistan.

In a message, President Dr Arif Alvi said according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one person dies every 30 seconds due to a hepatitis-related illness. In the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR), 80pc of the hepatitis C disease burden lies in Egypt and Pakistan. As of 2021 estimates, one in every 13 adult Pakistanis is hepatitis C positive. There are about 9,775,000 people living with hepatitis C and around 27,000 die each year due to its complications.

“Fortunately, direct acting antiviral medicines can cure HCV infection in adults within 12 weeks and Pakistan is producing these medicines at very affordable prices. The cure rate of these medicines is 97-98pc which is similar to that seen around the globe. Hepatitis C elimination is, therefore, a low-hanging fruit which is not only possible but also feasible for Pakistan,” he added.

Fortunately, we are producing drugs which can cure viral hepatitis C infection within 12 weeks, says president

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a statement said the government had set a target to eliminate the disease by 2030 and was making arrangements to carry out screening to identify the patients.

Gastroenterologist Dr Waseem Khawaja while talking to Dawn said: “There are five types of hepatitis, from A to E. However, Hepatitis C is the leading cause of death all over the world.”

He said people should ensure vaccination of hepatitis for their children. Cleanliness and sterilised instruments play a vital role in avoiding the disease. Unscreened blood and blood products should not be used, he said.

Dr Khawaja said polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and genotyping were the main tests to decide whether the patient needed treatment or not and for how long the treatment was required.

An event was organised at Maroof International Hospital which was attended by representatives from international organisations, including WHO, Unicef and the Australian High Commission.

Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Health Senator Mohammad Humayun Mohmand, while speaking on the occasion, said the major focus was on the health sector during the tenure of the PTI government.

Chief Executive Officer of the hospital Haroon Naseer said every day should be observed as a hepatitis day.

A statement issued by the WHO said viral hepatitis affects 360 million people worldwide and claims 3,000 lives every day. In 2015, the World Health Assembly adopted a strategy to eliminate hepatitis by 2030 through prevention, testing and treatment.

“Primary healthcare is an essential pillar of universal health coverage, and hepatitis services, including testing, treatment and prevention, need to be integrated within it. Bringing hepatitis care closer to communities will secure prevention services for those at higher risk for hepatitis,” it stated.

Meanwhile, the District Health Office held an awareness session at Gokina in connection with the day.

DHO Dr Zaeem Zia said: “We can’t wait for a world free of hepatitis.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) organised public awareness programmes across the country. Awareness desks for the general public were set up and banners were displayed in different hospitals in Islamabad, including Pims, CDA Hospital and Polyclinic.

In Rawalpindi, a walk was held here at Rawalpindi Medical University (RMU) to mark the day.

A large number of doctors, paramedical staff and others attended the walk.

Speaking on the occasion, RMU Vice Chancellor Dr. Mohammad Umer said that every third person of 10 in Pakistan was infected with hepatitis A or E, the most common variants which spread through contaminated water, adulterated food, reuse of hypodermic needles, blades, and unsterilised surgical equipment.

He said blood transfusion without getting it screened was also a leading cause of the spread of this virus to a healthy person.

Earlier, speaking on the occasion, District Health Authority Chief Executive Officer Dr Lubna Ishaque said about 15 million people were suffering from hepatitis B and C in Pakistan, and around 150,000 new cases were added annually.

She said the wide-ranging effort was urgently needed to prevent millions of new infections and increasing deaths, while hepatitis C in the country was around 5 per cent and hepatitis B was nearly 2.5 per cent.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2022

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