Despite the availability of an efficient vaccine for hepatitis B and cure for hepatitis C, hepatitis-related mortality is on the rise. One of the major issues cited is that a majority of people are unaware of their condition due to limited access to affordable hepatitis testing.
Broadly categorised as water-borne and blood-borne, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015. While water-borne hepatitis viruses A and E produce self-limiting symptoms, blood-borne viral infections B and C lead to chronic liver diseases and pose serious to life. Hepatitis A and E are spread through contaminated water or food. While hepatitis D is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person, hepatitis B is transmitted with exposure to infected body fluids or blood products, and C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus.
In most low-and middle-income countries, very few of those infected access testing and treatment. According to WHO, by the end of 2015, only 9% of hepatitis B-infected people and 20% of hepatitis C-infected people had been tested and diagnosed. Of those diagnosed with HBV infection, 8% (or 1.7 million people) were on treatment, while 7% of those diagnosed with hepatitis C infection (or 1.1 million people) had started treatment in 2015.
According to a recently published WHO report, despite the availability of an efficient vaccine for hepatitis B and cure for hepatitis C, hepatitis-related mortality is on the rise. One of the major issues cited is that a majority of people are unaware of their condition due to limited access to affordable hepatitis testing. The same report states that while the price of the hepatitis C medicines has decreased in low-income countries, it, however, still remains a barrier in upper-middle and high-income countries.
In India, viral hepatitis poses a significant health care burden. According to WHO, hepatitis B causes 60,000 deaths every year in India. It also has the second highest number of hepatitis C-infected people in the world. Getting rid of hepatitis C and B remains a huge challenge for the country mainly due to lack of awareness and unsafe injection practices. It is believed that about one million Indians are at risk of acquiring hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis is a silent killer, hepatitis B and C can live in the body for decades without showing any symptoms.
Underlining this gravity, every year World Hepatitis Day is observed on 28 July. It is an opportunity to add momentum to all the efforts aimed at implementing the WHO’s first global health sector strategy on viral hepatitis for 2016-2021, and to help the member states achieve the goal- to eliminate hepatitis.
To achieve this goal requires a large and collaborative effort. Few years ago, major drug firm Abbott made spreading awareness about hepataitis C in India the integral part of its social initiative. It launched ‘LiverHealth’, a CSR initiative, to provide access to an easy diagnosis of liver health and raising awareness of Hepatitis C in the country. We, at Fiinovation, hope that more of such social initiatives will be undertaken in the days ahead, and our call to combat the silent killer should be more united.
N. Bobo Meitei