Hepatitis kills thousands of people every year across the globe and has been ranked as the second major infectious disease. Yet awareness about hepatitis among people is too low. Most of the people infected with this disease do not even know that they are infected. So, even after being infected with a preventable and treatable disease, people have to suffer because of their lack of awareness. Observing the growing menace of this disease across the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) a few years back launched a global campaign to elimination hepatitis by 2030. As the world celebrates World Hepatitis Day today on July 28, let’s know where India stands and what are the challenges it is facing to eliminate this global menace.
The major challenge in India
Hepatitis is referred to as an inflammation of the liver caused by some specific kind of virus. If the virus is left untreated it can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or even liver cancer. There are mainly 5 hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D, and E.
Where on one hand hepatitis A and E are caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids.
Hepatitis B and C are generally transmitted from one person to the other through the transmission of contaminated blood or contaminated equipment during medical procedures and sexual contact. Out of all hepatitis, B and C are the most dangerous one and numerous stigmas are associated with it.
As per the data put up by the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, established by the Government of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, around 4 crore people are suffering from Hepatitis B in India and almost 1.2 crores have Hepatitis C. Out of all, 1.5 lakh people die annually due to this disease.
As per Dr. (Prof.) S.K. Sarin, Director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences “fighting hepatitis is difficult because both hepatitis B and C are chronic infections that often remain dormant in the body for years before damaging the liver.”
Most of the people are not even aware that they are infected with the virus. They only come to know about it after screenings, which generally happens if they have undergone dialysis or blood transfusions.
Dr. Sarin said that the second major challenge in fighting this deadly disease is the misconceptions and stigma attached to it. “These stigmas often leads to marginalisation and discrimination against patients.” The fear of social rejection force most of the people to stay silent about their condition, which only makes other people vulnerable to this disease.
The most common cause of transmission of hepatitis B and C is a mother-to-child transmission. However, the infection is both preventable as well as treatable if vaccination is provided on time.
Breaking the stigma
Awareness is the only way to prevent the disease from spreading. With the increase in the number of cases, it is important to make more and more people aware of it.
Dr. Sarin said that “The fight against the disease must focus on multiple fronts — prevention of hepatitis B through universal vaccination, identifying and treating patients through screenings and providing psycho-social support to patients.”
He pointed out that “Several initiatives are currently being undertaken by the Government under the National Viral Hepatitis Control Program (NVHCP), to improve access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatment for patients and those at risk. However, the stigma and discrimination associated with these infections are a significant hindrance to care-seeking, treatment compliance and mother to child transmission mainstreaming.”
The bottom line
The best way to protect oneself from hepatitis is through vaccination. So, get yourself and your family vaccinated. Other measures to keep in mind are as follows:
-Awareness about safe blood transfusion
-Use of safe needles for injections
-Avoiding unsafe needles when getting tattooed and body piercing.
-Hepatitis B and C can also be contracted through sexual intercourse. So, it is important to practice safe sex by using condoms.
-To stay safe from hepatitis A and E, avoid contaminated food and water.