Disease control: ‘One in 12 Pakistanis is infected with hepatitis’

Speakers say most patients unaware of infection.

Our Correspondent July 29, 2012


As many as eight to ten per cent of Pakistanis are infected with hepatitis, speakers at a seminar organised in connection with World Hepatitis Day said on Saturday.

They stressed the need for screening people to control the spread of the disease.

Organised by the Pakistan Society of Gastro-enterology and Endoscopy (PSGE), the seminar was attended by doctors, government representatives and social activists.

Speaking at the seminar, Dr Saeed Elahi, the parliamentary secretary for health, said awareness and prevention were important to control of hepatitis. He said health education was not the part of school curricula, however, the Punjab government was considering trying to include it. He said information on dengue was already provided at school. “Information on diseases like hepatitis, polio and TB should also be provided at primary level,” Elahi said. He said the Pakistan Medical Research Council had declared 30 districts in Pakistan as high risk areas for hepatitis.

Khawaja Salman Rafique, chief minister’s special assistant on health, said the government was taking steps to control hepatitis and was open to suggestions from experts. He said the government had tried to devise a policy to combat dengue in light of experts’ recommendations and had been successful.

Professor Dr Ghayasun Nabi Tayyab, vice president of the PSGE, said around one in 12 people had chronic viral hepatitis and was unaware of it.

“This amounts to 500 million in the globe,” he said. “The people of both developed countries and under developing countries are suffering.” He said hepatitis was a public health issue affecting millions of Pakistanis.

Viral hepatitis is amongst the top 10 infectious diseases in terms of causing death. “Chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C are responsible for approximately 80 per cent of liver cancer cases,” he added.

Pakistan needs to act on a war footing to prevent the spread of hepatitis, he said.

“Greater awareness, prevention and access to treatment are essential to eradicating the disease from Pakistan,” he said. “Professionals of all cadres, including doctors, health workers, social workers and beauty salon staff must be brought on board.”

Dr Tayyab said there were three methods to stop the spread.  “Efforts by media and religious leaders and strong laws are the way out,” he said.  Media should print/broadcast material on how to prevent being infected by hepatitis, he said. Religious leaders should include information about prevention in their sermons while legislation was required to ensure disposable syringes were destroyed in front of the patient to avoid recycling, he said. He said hepatitis A and E were common in Pakistan and were caused by unhygienic food and water.

“These contain an endemic type of hepatitis during the rainy season,” he said.Providing clean drinking water and improving sanitation can reduce their onset, he said.

Earlier, the Health Department organised a walk at the director general’s office. DG Dr Nisar Ahmed Cheema, EDO Dr Inamul Haq, Health Department employees, lady health workers and Hepatitis Control Programme officials participated in the walk.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.