While the number of hepatitis C cases is reducing in other developing countries, healthcare providers say that contrary is the case in Pakistan.
“We are developing about 250,000 new infections annually,” said Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) medicine department chairperson Prof Saeed Hamid. He said that there are a number of reasons which lead to the rising number of patients, such as increasing quacks and reuse of syringes.
Studies suggest that the prime factors that assist in the transmission of the HCV include unsafe blood transfusion, reuse of needles and syringes, unhygienic dental treatment and hospital environments. “There is no visible difference between the rural and urban areas,” said Hamid, adding that recent studies show notable number of patients in parts of Karachi. “Almost 24 per cent of the population of areas, such as Malir and Landhi, have hepatitis C virus (HCV).”
The three-day conference, titled ‘Towards Elimination of HCV Infections: A Policy Dialogue for Pakistan’, was hosted on Friday by the AKU and the Pakistan Society for Study of Liver Disease in collaboration with the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver, the World Health Organisation, World Hepatitis Alliance and Centres for Disease Control. Health experts from Egypt, Mongolia, China and Korea also attended the conference and shared their countries’ current status on HCV. Disclosing an increase in the number of female patients in Pakistan, Prof Huma Qureshi said that married women become more vulnerable as they visit hospitals frequently after marriage. “Most of the hospitals lack safe instruments which results in acquiring the disease,” she told The Express Tribune.
While explaining the case of syringes, Prof Sharaf Ali Shah said that people and doctors in Pakistan prefer injections instead of oral medicine. “The use of unnecessary injection is about 93 per cent,” he said. Misconceptions prevail regarding injections such as the belief that they are stronger and instantly effective as compared to oral medicine, he added.
Sharing studies, Shah said that patients demand of the doctors that they be injected. “If doctors refuse to inject, they are given a lesser fee,” he said. “It is a serious issue in Pakistan. However, the situation is better in urban areas.”
Prof Hasan Abbas Zaheer, the chairperson of the Islamabad Blood Transfusion Authority said that there are over 1,830 blood banks across the country and more blood is used for thalassaemia patients. However, most of the patients depend upon family members and friends which can be unsafe and might result in acquiring the virus if the donors are infected. He added that all provinces have adopted laws regarding blood transfusion from 1997 to 2004. However, there is poor implementation and a lack of uniformity.
Pakistan is recognised as one of the countries in the world with the highest prevalence of the HCV. In the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region, Pakistan stands second after Egypt. The prevalence of HCV in Pakistan is at least five per cent, with much higher figures for certain population pockets. This translates into an estimated 12 million infected people, of which four million could have serious liver disease and 1 million might be at greater risk of developing liver cancer.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2014.