The National Liver Foundation and its partners held a discussion and media round-table on Viral Hepatitis B & C in India at the India Habitat Center, New Delhi yesterday, a day before World Hepatitis Day (July 28th) to focus global attention on the looming Hepatitis Epidemic which is a “Silent Killer”. Hepatitis B virus is known to be 50-100 times more infectious than HIV; however, the resources to tackle this menace are still miniscule.
Dr. Shiv Sarin, Director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, New Delhi opened the discussion yesterday with a reminder that Hepatitis B & C infections are easily transmitted, particularly in health care settings, but with vaccines for Hepatitis B and treatment for Hepatitis C now available, the opportunity was ripe to take bold steps to control the problem of Hepatitis. He said: “We today have a very effective vaccine to prevent Hepatitis B. Every child should be protected at birth with this vaccine. Similarly, infection control and safe injection practices will ensure that no more transmission on Hepatitis B or C takes place in health care settings. For those with Hepatitis C, new drugs today bring hope for complete cure. We need to make sure that treatment is made accessible to all those who need it.”
Dr. Samir Shah, Founder and Hon. General Secretary of National Liver Foundation was also present at the round table. Hecalled attention to the growing numbers of people contracting Hepatitis B & C infections in India. Speaking at the event, he said “We need to get a handle on the Hepatitis Epidemic in India. A concerted national Hepatitis Control program needs to be launched at the earliest possible. We call on all state governments and our national leadership to take urgent actions.”
HEPATITIS IN INDIA: UNACKNOWLEDGED, UNCOUNTED
It is estimated that there are between 25 and 40 million people living with Hepatitis B or C viruses. These numbers are extrapolated from testing carried out in blood banks. In the absence of robust epidemiological work, these numbers remain uncertain. Nearly all Indians have been exposed to Hepatitis A virus and have experienced a mild form of illness in childhood. Addressing this will need a complete review of how India approaches water and sanitation issues, at public and personal levels.
Bhavna Visharia, a social activist from Mumbai, was a regular blood donor and organizer of blood donation camps. When it was found during her 17th donation that she had Hepatitis C, her situation changed dramatically. Today, she is healthy. She said: “The system of blood donation can save lives; it should be kept that way. We should ensure that life saving processes like blood donation and getting injections do not create a larger problem like Hepatitis for individuals and the society.”
Globally, around 150 million people are infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). India contributes a large proportion of this HCV burden. The prevalence of HCV infection in India is estimated at between 0.5% and 1.5%. It is higher in the Northeastern part, tribal populations and Punjab, areas which may represent HCV hotspots, and is lower in western and eastern parts of the country. The predominant modes of HCV transmission in India are blood transfusion and unsafe therapeutic injections. There is a need for large field studies to better understand HCV epidemiology and identify high-prevalence areas, and to identify and spread awareness about the modes of transmission of this infection in an attempt to prevent disease transmission.