Though patients of hepatitis B are never cured entirely, modern medicine has made it possible to treat the potentially fatal hepatitis C, claimed experts of the Aga Khan University (AKU).
"At present, we can treat 70 per cent of the people who have hepatitis C," claimed AKU department of medicine chairperson, Prof Dr Saeed Hamid.
Addressing the public health awareness session at AKU auditorium on Sunday on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day, Dr Hamid said that both hepatitis B and C are chronic diseases, adding that around 70 out of every 100 liver cancer patients also have hepatitis C.
"Almost all patients of hepatitis C can be treated and only those whose disease is at an advanced stage that cannot be treated," he clarified.
Viral hepatitis - hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E - affects millions worldwide, causing acute and chronic liver disease. Globally, 500 million people have chronic hepatitis B and C. Pakistan alone has 13 million hepatitis sufferers, many of whom are unaware that they are carriers of the deadly virus.
"Revolutionary changes are taking place in the treatment of hepatitis C; it can now be cured and even totally eliminated from the world," said Dr Hamid, adding that the biggest successes have been the development of new and highly potent medications for treatment of hepatitis C. "New direct-acting antiviral agents in the form of pills are more effective and safer than old therapies."
Another health professional of the AKU, Dr Hasnain Ali Shah, explained the 'complications of chronic hepatitis' and said that, if left untreated, hepatitis B and C can cause progressive liver disease that may ultimately cause liver cancer.
He said that hepatitis C is the most common cause of liver cancer and is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. "Once the complications of liver disease set in, the only option left for a cure is liver transplantation, but we don't have that facility available in Pakistan," said Dr Shah.
Other doctors also highlighted the successes of medicine over the disease. "Hepatitis B can be controlled," explained professor of medicine and associate dean of continuing medical education at the AKU, Dr SM Wasim Jafri. He urged that this is a lifelong and dynamic disease and if someone is infected at an early age, especially in the first year of their birth, then they will have it for the rest of their life, hence highlighting the importance of early vaccinations.
Dr Jafri said that treatment and medicines are available in Pakistan at cheaper rates as compared to Europe and other countries. Currently a number of treatment options are available for hepatitis B. "However, in our country most patients with hepatitis B are treated by general practitioners who are unaware of the right treatments," Dr Jafri suggested. "It is important to create awareness and understanding of the treatment options for best results."
The speakers informed that reusing unsterile needles and syringes, dental equipment, shaving razors and unsafe blood transfusions are the main reasons for transmission of hepatitis in Pakistan. Strict measures are extremely important to stop the transmission of hepatitis B and C, they added.
Speaking on the transmission and prevention of hepatitis, head of Gastroenterology of AKU Prof Dr Shahab Abid, said that more than 95 per cent of hepatitis cases are caused by infections. "Disease is increasing in our society," he said, adding that the exact amount of disease is unknown in Pakistan.
"Chronic hepatitis B and C cause more deaths worldwide than tuberculosis or aids," said Dr Abid. "It is a silent killer."
Dr Abid also said that the vaccination is the best way to save a person from the disease, urging risk factors should be avoided.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2014.