Losing out: Hepatitis awareness struggles in wake of scandal

No campaigns, seminars in province while the rest of the world marks Hepatitis Day.

Noorwali Shah July 28, 2013
Hepatitis patients in K-P are facing a difficult situation. PHOTO: FILE


While the world marked World Hepatitis Day on Sunday, there was grim silence in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) where no seminars or awareness campaigns were held.

The health department did not organise any events even though the theme for this year’s hepatitis day was “This is hepatitis, know it, and confront it”.

Hepatitis patients in K-P are facing a difficult situation. On the one hand, patients suffering from the virus are increasing day by day due to a lack of awareness, while on the other a stigma is still attached to the vaccination programme due to the spurious drugs scandal reported last year.

Numbers paint gloomy picture

Health department officials are also reluctant to provide information regarding the on-going steps taken by the government due to the recent scandal, which has been a big blow to the free hepatitis programme.

Moreover, no funds have been specifically allocated to raise awareness among residents of K-P. Data shows 11,000 patients of hepatitis B in K-P were treated while 21,000 are currently under treatment. Similarly, a total of 27,000 patients of hepatitis C were treated while 12,000 are currently being treated.

Data further shows 2,000 patients of hepatitis C at the Lady Reading Hospital, 5,000 in City hospital, 700 in Khyber Teaching Hospital and 250 in Hayatabad Medical Complex are under treatment.

There are 600 patients in Nowshera, 800 in Mardan, 700 in Swat, 300 in Bannu, 150 in Lower Dir, 10 in Chitral, 300 in Kohat, 240 in Swabi, 170 in Batagram and 370 in Abbottabad.

Health department’s conundrum

The stigma with the free hepatitis programme is still continuing, despite the fact that the health department has stopped supplying interferon injections to hospitals.

Nearly 0.3 million hepatitis vials were found to be of substandard quality. On February 6, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) took suo motu action on the purchasing and supply of the substandard injections worth Rs250 million.

Former DG health Dr Sharif Ahmad Khan, Maulvi G Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Muhammad Ali Chohan, Project Director Dr Ghulam Subhani and storekeeper Mubarak Shah were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) in relation to the case. The suspects were jailed for a few days but later obtained bail from the Supreme Court. Currently, only Mubarak Shah is behind bars.

Meanwhile, officials remain confused as to how to remove the negativity associated with the campaign. “Yes, there is a big stigma attached to the free medicine programme launched by the provincial government and patients hardly trust the treatment given to them in public sector hospitals,” said an official of the health department, requesting anonymity. “It will take a long time to restore their (the patients’) trusts and officials have no clear plan at the moment.”

The official further said it was a very sensitive matter as experts had to probe the issue. “We must shed light on the actual situation because not doing so means playing with the lives of people.”

In the 2013 provincial budget, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led provincial government allocated a total of Rs175 million to treat patients of hepatitis. The health department has also decided it will invite reputable pharmaceutical companies to provide medicines for the programme.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2013.