“It’s closer than you think” is the theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day, On 28 July 2012, world is going to mark World Hepatitis Day and raise awareness of viral hepatitis. Today, about 500 million people worldwide – one in 12 – are infected with chronic viral hepatitis B or C. Pakistan is currently home to around 15 to 18 million patients suffering from Hepatitis B and C.One out of every 10 Pakistanis suffers from either Hepatitis B or C. Unsafe drinking water(Hepatitis A and E), unscreened blood transfusions and used syringes have made Hepatitis one of Pakistan’s greatest health concerns. Current estimated prevalence of Hepatitis B is 3-4% and Hepatitis C is 4.8%. Though, there are many different causative agents of Hepatitis, but Hepatitis B and C are lethal, which if not cured in time; can be fatal.
Hepatitis B is endemic in Pakistan. Hepatitis B virus is transmitted between people by direct blood-to-blood contact or semen and vaginal fluid of an infected person. This virus is not spread by contaminated food or water, and cannot be spread casually in the workplace. The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least seven days. During this time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person who is not protected by the vaccine(hence vaccination against Hepatitis B virus is utmost important).
In countries like Pakistan, perinatal (from mother to baby at birth), early childhood infections (inapparent infection through close interpersonal contact with infected household contacts), unsafe injection practices, unsafe blood transfusions, and unprotected sexual contact are common modes of transmission.
Hepatitis B is a major infectious occupational hazard of health workers.
Chronic Hepatitis B is curable disease and it can be treated effectively with third generation Hepatitis drugs. But the prevention is the mainstay. WHO’s recommendations for prevention and treatment are very worthwhile, it recommends raising awareness promoting partnerships and mobilizing resources; evidence-based policy and data for action; prevention of transmission; and screening, care and treatment.
As of July 2011, 179 countries(including Pakistan) vaccinate infants against hepatitis B as part of their vaccination schedules – a major increase compared with 31 countries in 1992, the year that the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to recommend global vaccination against hepatitis B.
The hepatitis C virus is most commonly transmitted through exposure to infectious blood. Receipt of contaminated blood transfusions, blood products and organ transplants; injections given with contaminated syringes and needle-stick injuries in health-care settings; injection drug use; being born to a hepatitis C-infected mother are the possible modes of transmission.
Hepatitis C may be transmitted through sex with an infected person or sharing of personal items contaminated with infectious blood, but these are less common.
Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food or water or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.
Like chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C is also can be treated with third generation Hepatitis drugs but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Although, the risk of infection can be reduced by avoiding unnecessary and unsafe injections; unsafe blood products; unsafe sharps waste collection and disposal; use of illicit drugs and sharing of injection equipment; unprotected sex with hepatitis C-infected people; sharing of sharp personal items that may be contaminated with infected blood; tattoos, piercings and acupuncture performed with contaminated equipment.
The theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day “It’s closer than you think” invites all the nations of the world to come to gather to raise awareness about the prevention, control and treatment of the disease. Unfortunately in Pakistan, there is no good news , we have failed to take any solid measures for control and prevention of hepatitis and moreover, majority of the population, still relies on superstitious beliefs and myths regarding hepatitis B and C, when someone is infected with hepatitis B or C, patient goes to pirs, faqirs, molvis and hakeems for treatment and gets his disease more complicated. I myself have seen a lot of patients who were admitted in PIMS , with chronic hepatitis(sometimes end stage) give their history about disease and describe that they have been visiting these pirs, faqirs, molvis and hakeems for treatment. This is pathetic situation and government’s top officials(policy makers) have not announced state policy in this regard yet. Pakistan needs a high-profile awareness-raising campaign to educate the people for prevention and control of the disease and to get treatment in right direction. This should be built upon with an organised campaign involving the country’s icons and heroes: sports and media stars, community and religious leaders, judges, politicians, campaigners and civil society activists. Social media is also very important tool to undermine superstitions and myths related to Hepatitis B and C in Pakistan.
Currently, I am working in centre for liver diseases and liver transplant PIMS, Islamabad. I along with my team am doing my best for control, prevention and treatment of Hepatitis. I appreciate present democratic government for establishing the centre for liver diseases and liver transplant in PIMS, Islamabad for free treatment poor and needy patients suffering for liver diseases and hepatitis. Executive director PIMS, Professor Mahmood Jamal ‘s day in and day out efforts have made our center, the source of free treatment for poor and needy patients suffering from hepatitis. The treatment of Liver diseases is underway at PIMS Hospital providing indoor and outdoor treatment including the provision of equipment, drugs and minor surgeries. Hepatitis B and C patients are provided complete set of third generation Hepatitis drugs. We provide free vaccination of Hepatitis B virus. We have also organized seminar In connection with world hepatitis day. And through your media group I have tried to speak to my nation.
As far as myths and superstitious beliefs are concerned, I am hapless to rid my country of it because I am not influential and powerful man to influence state policy of the country. But I can appeal to top government officials, Prime minister, President, Chief Justice and media groups that please all of you come to gather to change the state policy of Pakistan.
Long live Pakistan