Viral Hepatitis is a major public health problem in the South-East Asia Region. Each year viral hepatitis infects millions of people across the region, causing the death of around 410 000 persons – more than HIV and malaria combined. It is also a major cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis, contributing to premature morbidity and mortality, and undermining economic growth and the push to achieve health and wellbeing
As per World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, India is among the top 11 countries which carry the global burden of chronic hepatitis. Since, it accounts for a huge burden of illness, outbreaks and epidemic spread, resulting in increased death cases.
Despite all the awareness, it is estimated that just one in ten people infected with the disease know their status. Many others remain unaware that effective treatments exist, or that preventive measures are available, from basic hygiene to the hepatitis B vaccine. Regrettably, stigma and discrimination against those suffering the disease remain common.To overcome these barriers and eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030, as per regional and global targets, enhanced awareness and understanding of how to prevent, treat and manage the disease is vital.
“The five main types of hepatitis virus include A, B, C, D and E. Infection by any of these viruses can lead to inflammation of liver and some infections can lead to liver cirrhosis or cancer. Based on the symptoms, a physical examination is done to check the enlargement of liver, skin colour and presence of fluid in the abdomen followed by a suitable antibacterial treatment. Awareness and early diagnosis is key to patient treatment as the infection can be difficult to cure at later stage,” says Dr. Govind Nandakumar, Chief of Gastrointestinal Surgery & GI Oncosurgery, Columbia Asia Hospitals, Bangalore.
Health authorities can expand the hepatitis-related knowledge and skills of health workers at all levels. From nurses and midwives to doctors and technicians, a clear understanding of viral hepatitis testing, treatment and care is needed. This can be done by enhancing medical and other health professional school curricula; creating and disseminating robust guidelines on all aspects of hepatitis testing, treatment and care; and providing specialized training on outbreak management. Clear directives on avoiding unnecessary injections and using ReUse Prevention syringes wherever injections are required can go a long way to decreasing the hepatitis burden. So too can universal uptake of the hepatitis B birth dose vaccine when followed by two-three doses in the first six months of life.
“A person can have hepatitis B infection for many years before diagnosis, I see a lot of patients with liver cirrhosis and primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, HCC) as their first presentation. The most important challenges remaining in the area of hepatitis B and HCC are development of improved means of early detection and treatment. Currently, HBV-related HCC is often detected late, at a time that surgical interventions and liver transplantation is no longer feasible,” says Dr. Sumana Kolar Ramachandra, Chief of Liver Transplant, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Yeshwanthpur
Some of the symptoms of hepatitis include Jaundice, fatigue, nausea, stomach bloating, itching, weight loss, loss of appetite and dark coloured urine.
Below mentioned are some ways to prevent the infection:
- Practice proper hygiene
- Wash hands well after using the restroom and before eating meals
- Avoid eating at unhygienic or contaminated places
Hepatitis B and C:
- Do not share personal grooming instrument like razors
- Check for used needles to prevent risk of infection
- Be careful about equipment used while tattooing
- Before getting piercing done, ensure the equipment is clean
- Practice safe intercourse
“Beyond policy-level interventions, each of us can contribute to raising awareness and helping eliminate the disease in our own way” Says Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, “We can share our experiences of hepatitis infection openly, challenging social taboos. We can express solidarity with persons affected by hepatitis, creating a culture of empathy and care. And we can also take a moment to learn more about the disease, sharing that knowledge with our friends, colleagues and loved ones. As Indian film star and WHO South-East Asia Goodwill Ambassador for Viral Hepatitis Mr Amitabh Bachchan demonstrates, hepatitis infection can happen to anyone at any time, and needn’t be accompanied by shame or guilt. It is a common and treatable disease; it is something we must all acknowledge and face up to. ”
“WHO South-East Asia is committed to doing this, and to supporting all countries in the Region implement comprehensive strategic action plans to tackle hepatitis. Through our collective resolve we can enhance hepatitis-related awareness and action and eliminate the disease as a public health threat by 2030.” She concludes
Hopefully we will be able to raise awareness with the medical community as well as with the citizens to be more aware and combat the ill effects of Hepatitis. Here is wishing everyone a safe World Hepatitis Day.
(Source: Columbia Asia Hospital PR on World Hepatitis Day, media statement from WHO South East Asia Regional Office)