Hepatitis remains an uncontrolled disease in Pakistan
By Shahzad Raza
ISLAMABAD: One out of every 10 Pakistanis suffers from either Hepatitis B or C. Almost 15 million patients infected with the disease have waited for several years for a campaign against the deadly disease.
Unsafe drinking water, unscreened blood transfusions and used syringes have made Hepatitis one of Pakistan’s greatest health concerns.
Health professionals and the government are making conflicting statistics on Hepatitis B prevalence in the country. According to these statements, the rate may vary from 4.8 to 5.8 percent.
The Extended Programme of Immunisation (EPI) launched an anti-hepatitis campaign in the country and set out to immunise 80 percent of all children. This, however, did not improve conditions significantly.
The programme has been facing problems in the rural areas of the country where parents are not cooperative on the immunisation of children under the age of one.
Although millions of Pakistanis are infected with the deadly Hepatitis virus, no concerned public department or agency has accurate statistical information. The 5.8 percent prevalence rate suggests that there may be around 8 million patients in the country.
The virus has five types, A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A and E are caused by oral infection, contaminated water and unhygienic food. Hepatitis B, C and D are caused by un-sterilised syringes, sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, and from mother to infant.
Hepatitis B and C are global health problems. There are 350 million Hepatitis B carriers worldwide. Medical experts associate the fast increase in Hepatitis B cases to ignorance and a lack of appropriate preventive measures.
The efforts against Hepatitis in Pakistan are being supported by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), which is financially supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Pakistan is expected to receive 81.093 million medicinal doses from GAVI to immunise more than 21 million children by the end of the year 2005.
It is claimed that the hepatitis B virus is 100 times more concentrated in the blood than the HIV, virus making it much easier to be transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, saliva and vaginal secretions.
Hepatitis C is often called the ‘silent epidemic.’ The virus can live in the body for decades, often with no symptoms, continuously damaging the liver. The long-term consequences of hepatitis C include liver diseases such as liver cancer, and may even cause death. There is also neither a cure nor a vaccine for hepatitis C.
The federal government is set to launch the first ever “National Programme for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis in Pakistan” today (Monday). An official of the National Institute of Health estimates that the five-year programme will cost Rs 2.59 billion.
The major goals of the programme include ensuring safe drinking water, safe blood transfusions, the safe disposal of injection and invasive devices, capacity building, vaccination of high risk groups, and the free treatment of over 5,000 patients annually.