Though nearly 2.50 lakh people across the country die annually of viral hepatitis, which affects approximately one for every 12 people worldwide, India has neither any national policy on hepatitis A vaccination nor established the goal of eliminating hepatitis B, the WHO noted.
In its “Global policy report on the prevention and control of viral hepatitis in WHO Member States”, which was released on the occasion to mark the World Hepatitis Day on Sunday, the global health agency pointed out gaps as well as successes at country level including India in the implementation of four priority areas. These are raising awareness, evidence-based data for action, prevention of transmission, and screening, care and treatment.
Hepatitis viruses constitute a major health risk as they cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Not much has been done by India to check this silent killer. The WHO report noted that there is no routine surveillance and also that deaths due to the virus are not reported to a central registry.
Moreover, there is inadequate laboratory capacity nationally to support investigation of viral hepatitis outbreaks and other surveillance activities. Also, there is no national public health research agenda for viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis sero-surveys are not conducted regularly, the report added.
“It is not known what percentage of newborn infants nationally in a given recent year received the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth or what percentage of one-year-olds (ages 12 to 23 months) nationally in a given recent year received three doses of hepatitis B vaccine,” it said.
Again, though there is a designated governmental unit responsible solely for carrying out viral hepatitis related activities, it is not known whether there is a national policy relating to the prevention of viral hepatitis among people who inject drugs or any national policies relating to screening and referral to care for hepatitis B or hepatitis C, the report said.
Experts have called for early diagnosis of Hepatitis to prevent more deaths.
“Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C infections are ‘silent’ diseases that remain asymptomatic for decades. Due to lower awareness, more than 60 per cent patients are diagnosed at a stage when the disease is irreversible,” said Dr Anil Arora, HOD of gastroenterology and hepatology at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in NewDelhi.
Dr Ajay Bhalla, HOD of gastroenterology & hepatology, Fortis Hospital, Noida added, “Increasing number of youth are exposed to risk of contracting infection through unsafe sexual practices, reuse of syringes for drug addiction, sharing of razors, toothbrushes etc. Educating communities about importance of staying protected from Hepatitis is must.”
The article appeared on July 29th, 2013 in The Pioneer.