November 28, 2013

16 million to 148m people infected with hepatitis viruses: experts

Provided by Business Recorder

November 29, 2013 MUHAMMAD SALEEM

Health professionals have expressed grave concern over the spread of Hepatitis-C virus in the country and said an estimated 16 to 148 million people are infected with various forms of hepatitis viruses. They were speaking at a public awareness seminar on Hepatitis C, held here at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) on Thursday.

While the use, reuse and misuse of syringes continue, health experts do not see the government winning the battle against the spread of Hepatitis-C virus in Pakistan.

Leading Liver and Gastroenterology Physician and Principal Gujranwala Medical College Gujranwala, Prof Aftab Moshin said that out of 200 million, an estimated 16 to 148 million are infected with various forms of hepatitis viruses. "Pakistan has the highest number of patients with chronic liver disease in the world", he added.

Prof Aftab Mohsin, who is also the former national programme manager of the Prime Minister's Programme for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis which has now been devolved to the provinces, said that all evidence for the spread of Hepatitis-C virus (HCV) points to the use of non-sterile syringes in Pakistan. "Annually, an estimated 16 billion therapeutic injections are administered the world over out of which 800 to 900 million are administered in Pakistan only," he said, adding: "Nine out of 10 injections administered in the country are unnecessary."

He said that doctors particularly those practising in small towns and rural areas do oblige patients when they demand infusion drips and injections. "It's not just quacks, I hold qualified dentists and medical practitioners responsible for unsafe practices of administering unnecessary injections, and using non-sterile syringes or needles", said Prof Mohsin.

He further said that unfortunately there is no legislation in place to ban reuse and misuse of syringes, as there is no law to date that prohibits quacks from practicing.

Pakistan Society of Gastroenterology President and professor of medicine at Allama Iqbal Medical College, Lahore, Prof Arif M. Siddiqui said that coupled with poverty and illiteracy, other reasons for the spread of what is known as a silent epidemic of hepatitis, as the symptoms do not show until 15 to 20 years later, are use of non-sterilised razors and dental instruments by roadside barbers and dentists and contaminated blood transfusions.

He added that the risk of infection could be reduced by taking precautionary measures and creating awareness among masses.

UHS acting vice chancellor Prof Mohammad Tahir said that around 66 per cent population of Pakistan is living in rural areas and they are ignorant about the transmission of viral infections.

UHS Director of Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching and noted liver surgeon Dr Arif Rashid Khawaja stressed the need of waging joint efforts to combat the menace of Hepatitis-C. He said that liver transplant is usually the only treatment option for patients with end-stage liver disease; however, there are only 3 to 4 qualified liver transplant surgeons available in the country who are making individual efforts.

Dr Shah Jahan of UHS Immunology Department spoke on the role of diagnostics in the treatment of patients with Hepatitis-C. He said that the response of conventional interferon provided by the government in public sector hospitals to treat HCV is only 40 per cent in 4-weeks.
It may be noted that Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver commonly caused by a viral infection.

Hepatitis viruses are classified as types A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis A and E are generally caused by food or water contamination. Hepatitis B, C and D are acquired through contact with infected body fluids, particularly blood. For those infected with Hepatitis-B, 80pc of the patients recover naturally and may not suffer from liver damage and out of those infected with Hepatitis-C, 80pc may become chronic carriers.

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