On the eve of the INASL (Indian National Association for the Study of the Liver) conference, patients call for a comprehensive approach, drawing attention to Hepatitis B and C disease- prevention efforts and treatment access.

Jaipur, March 27, 2014: Patients from various districts of Rajasthan and other parts of India today joined hands as a step towards building an awareness programme to mobilize all stakeholders- including practitioners and policy makers, to combat the growing number of Hepatitis infected people. 

As many as 12 million people may be chronically infected in India and most are unaware of it. According to experts, lack of awareness about the disease and its treatment, coupled with the fact that it has no visible symptoms in its early stages, has contributed to its spread; particularly, in northern India.

“Viral hepatitis is rapidly becoming an epidemic due to its long gestation period and the biggest contributing factor is insufficient knowledge and awareness among the general population. The virus can remain in the body for years without showing any symptoms of its presence, leading to more fatal consequences,” said Dr Ramesh Roop Rai, HOD Gastroenterology Fortis Escorts Hospital and former president of the Indian Society of Gastroenterology.

Citing an incident in 2010 that rocked the entire country when 20 Thalassemic children got HIV and Hepatitis C infection after blood transfusions at a government hospital in Jodhpur, he said, “When it comes to controlling the disease transmission, every newborn should be vaccinated. And for all those who haven’t been vaccinated yet, getting tested is pivotal. The HBV vaccination is still an option if test results are negative; otherwise, various treatment options are available to avoid further disease transmission.” He laid particular emphasis on involving the families of patients as an effort to prevent disease transmission and patient care.

According to Dr. Bobby John, Executive Director of Global Health Advocates (GHA) India, “These diseases, being silent killers, have so far not attracted the attention of the policy makers.” He said a greater effort to draw the attention of policy makers and draw up a comprehensive policy towards addressing the issue needs to be made. A disease can only be completely eradicated if the government strengthens competencies for diagnosis, treatment, care and follow-up of people infected with viral hepatitis”, Dr John said.

In December last year, a similar effort, drawing the need to formulate effective screening, prevention and control strategies was launched in Ahmedabad where National Liver Foundation launched its Gujarat Chapter. And in February patients from both Punjab and Haryana joined hands, voicing their concerns in accessing treatment options.

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