Patients call for urgent action against rising Viral Hepatitis in Assam

State leads Viral Hepatitis cases in Northeast
Low awareness and lack of screening sighted as the biggest concerns

Guwahati, May 19, 2014: Today Assam, the gateway to north-eastern India, witnessed a patient led initiative to combat one of the biggest global health concerns of current times, Viral Hepatitis. The state saw the launch of the Assam State Chapter by the National Liver Foundation, where patients engaged with practitioners, policy makers and the public to create awareness around the severity of the disease and call for an urgent action.

According to the recently released data by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Assam saw 419 registered viral hepatitis cases in 2013, the maximum in the north-eastern part of the country. These included co-infected patients, who have been infected with both Viral Hepatitis and HIV;with Hepatitis B witnessing a greater incidence.

With the higher incidence of Hepatitis B in Assam, Dr. B.D. Goswami, Head of the Department of Gastroenterology of Guwahati Medical College and Hospital explained how this infection finds prey. He said, “Hepatitis B spreads when blood, semen or other body fluid infected with this virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. Also, people could be infected by birth (from an infected mother); sex with an infected partner; sharing needles, syringes or any other drug injection equipment; sharing food that has been pre-chewed by an infected persons; direct contact with blood or open sores of an infected person and exposure to blood from used needles or other sharp instruments”.

Underlining the gravity of the disease burden in India, Dr. Bobby John, Executive Director of Global Health Advocates (GHA) India, said “The widespread lethal effect of this disease can be calculated from an estimation that Hepatitis B and C are prevalent in between 25 and 40 million people in India, which is very much higher than the occurrence of HIV or any cancer. As many as 12 million people may be chronically infected in India and most are unaware of it. The disease, often being termed as silent killer, has so far not attracted the attention of the policy makers”.

The criticality of addressing this vital health concern was reiterated by Ms. Jahnabi Goswami, Hepatitis Patient Activist and public figure, “Prevention and screening is pivotal. Lack of disease awareness and the dormant symptoms of Viral Hepatitis poses an urgent need for key stakeholders at both state and center level to formulate effective screening, prevention and control strategies.” She adds, “the burden of treatment cost is another concerning matter. We should be taking cues from the north eastern states of Nagaland and Mizoram where medicines have been made free of cost, especially for HIV/HCV co-infection cases.”

The WHO in its Global Policy Report (2013) has noted that India neither has any national policy nor established any goal to eliminate viral hepatitis. There is no routine surveillance in the country, and on top of that deaths caused due to the virus are not being reported to a central registry. There is an urgent need to formulate effective screening, prevention and control strategies, and the launch of state chapters like in Assam is a step towards this direction.

National Liver Foundation has taken the mantle of reaching out to key policy makers for appropriate intervention required to curb further damage.  After successful execution of State Chapters in Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh,National Liver Foundation has brought patients from the remote districts of Assamto mobilize all stakeholders.

About National Liver Foundation
The National Liver Foundation (NLF) is a voluntary, non-profit organization promoting awareness and prevention of liver diseases in India. It offers help, information, and supports to those suffering from liver disease and their families. In addition, NLF reaches out to support programmes involving diagnosis, prevention and treatment of liver- related diseases.

Since its inception, the NLF has attempted to spread awareness about preventable hepatic diseases and reaching out to people suffering from chronic or advanced diseases through:

  • Various educational and training programmes including seminars
  • Patient support groups
  • Mobilizing funds for providing treatment to patients at considerably subsidized rates
  • Campaigns for promoting organ donation and other activities
  • Vaccinate Hepatitis B vaccine to all medical students and para-medical entrants

About Global Health Advocates India
Global Health Advocates India is a non-governmental organization that focuses on engaging all sections of society to fight diseases that disproportionately affect people living in poverty, and are also the leading causes of people living in poverty. In particular, Global Health Advocates India works towards the formulation and implementation of effective public policies to fight disease and ill health in India.

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