Hepatitis has reached alarming levels, says Alvi – Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The prevalence of hepatitis B and C (HBV/HCV) has reached alarming proportions in the country, said President Arif Alvi on Sunday at a conference themed “Invest in Eliminating Hepatitis from Pakistan” held in connection with World Hepatitis Day annually observed on July 28.

At the conference was also the launching of Prime Minister’s Policy Package for Elimination of Viral Hepatitis programme to screen up to 140 million people for hepatitis and provide them free medical treatment if found infected.

Addressing the conference, the president said the prevalence of hepatitis B and C in 15 to 20 million people of Pakistan was alarming.

He said the vehicle to transmit the virus of hepatitis and HIV was the same which was through unsafe blood transfusions and reuse of syringes. Citing the example of Egypt, he said it had brought down the prevalence of hepatitis from 13 per cent to three per cent in 10 years which means it could be done in Pakistan as well.

PM’s programme for elimination of viral hepatitis launched

However, the president strongly advocated for focused efforts on prevention of diseases saying it was far cheaper than the cure.

He said unfortunately, health practitioners were not being taught to treat patients prescribing minimum possible medicines particularly antibiotics and injections. He said awareness against viral diseases such as hepatitis and HIV could be better created with the help of lady health workers along with utilising electronic and social media, NGOs and holding regular awareness seminars.

At the conference data was shared according to which, with 10 per cent HCV prevalence, about 20 million would be anti-HCV positive and would need to undergo necessary screening. Almost 80 per cent would show the virus and then need to undergo treatment. Using these estimates, around 16 million cases would need direct acting anti-virals and 12 million could be cured.

Also addressing the conference was Special Assistant to the PM (SAPM) Dr Zafar Mirza who said that thousands of new hepatitis patients were being added every year due to lack of prevention, testing and treatment resources as well as inadequately screened blood transfusion, improperly sterilised invasive medical devices and unsafe injections.

Although Pakistan produces cheaper medicines to cure hepatitis C infection, with a very low cost per cure within three months, very few people in the country know of their infection, and therefore, could not access testing and treatment services. The cost of cure for hepatitis C could be as high as US$15,000 in a country like the US, he said In his video message, WHO’s Dire­ctor-General Dr Tedros Adha­nom Ghebreyesus congratulated Pakis­tan’s political leadership for its promise to eliminate hepatitis by 2030.

WHO Assistant Director-General for Universal health coverage for communicable and non-communicable diseases Dr Ren Minghui underlined the importance of using integrated approaches and existing opportunities and innovations that could support Pakistan to achieve its ambitious but necessary health goals.

According to WHO, 23,720 people died of hepatitis-related causes in Pakistan in 2016, which is equivalent to a bus full of 64 people every day.

During the two-day conference, provincial health ministers and secretaries, provincial hepatitis control programme managers, members of National Technical Advisory Group, experts from Aga Khan University, researchers, policymakers and civil society activists also pledged their support in eliminating viral hepatitis.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2019