Hepatitis B and C are spreading in the country very rapidly. Oncologists fear that liver cancer, which is caused by the two, will get more common if necessary steps are not taken to address the issue.
Despite the fact that Hepatitis B vaccination is included in the National Immunization Program, the government has failed to control its spread, said an official on Wednesday.
According to the Ministry of Health there is a high prevalence of Hepatitis B and C in Pakistan with the number of affected people standing at 15 million. Hepatitis Control Program figures reveal that the number of deaths caused by the disease in the country is higher than the fatalities resulting from terrorist acts every year. To know more about the two diseases, The Express Tribune talked to senior oncologists including Dr Muhammad Faheem, head of Oncology Department at Nuclear Oncology and Radiotherapy Institute, Dr Qasim Mehmood, assistant professor of Medical Oncology at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), and Dr Mohammad Ali Afridi from Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad.
Untreated, patients of Hepatitis B and C can develop hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), commonly known as liver cancer, they said.
According to a study conducted by the medical Unit-III Ward-7, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, in 2008, the incidence of HCC is estimated to be eight in every 100,000 people per annum.
Dr Afridi said every month about four to five patients, in the last stages of liver cancer, visit him.
“The vaccination of Hepatitis B is available in the market and its complete course costs Rs2,500 to 3,000, which is unfortunately unaffordable for many in Pakistan,” he said.
He added that liver transplant could be one possibly way to deal with the cancer, but Pakistan currently lacks such a facility.
Talking to The Express Tribune, a specialist dealing with Gastroenteritis in Pims said every day about half of patients visiting the outpatient department of the hospital complain of problems due to hepatitis. The doctor said the average treatment cost of diseases due to hepatitis ranges between Rs 300,000 to Rs 700,000 per patient.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Dr Aftab Mohsin, national program manager for Hepatitis Prevention and Control, said the Hepatitis B vaccination is given to children and to individuals at a higher risk such as doctors and paramedic staff.
“But due to the resources constraint the coverage of vaccination is limited, which is the main hurdle behind [the rapid spread of Hepatitis B and C] in the country,” he said.
Besides the lack of public awareness on how to prevent against the two diseases, improper sterilisation of medical devices and reusing syringes are other two major reasons behind the massive spread.
Considering the increase in the burden of hepatitis in the country Ministry of Health has decided to provide equipments for safe disposal of waste to 37 health institutes in the capital including Pims, Polyclinic Hospital, Capital Development Authority hospitals, rural health units and basic health units, said an official.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2011.