The plight of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s hepatitis C patients might finally be on the mend as hospitals across the province have been provided with 50,000 vials of interferon by the provincial hepatitis control programme.
With the first batch dispatched, dispensaries were stocked with the hepatitis medicine after a gap of nearly two years.
The interferon drought occurred when the court took notice of substandard hepatitis C medicine being administered at hospitals in 2013. While the case is still sub-judice, sources say over 45,000 patients have hepatitis C in the province and the treatment and management programme has been suspended for two years.
A former DG health, former project director and a storekeeper were arrested by the anti-corruption establishment in April 2013 for their alleged involvement in the procurement of substandard interferon worth Rs250 million for state-run hospitals. At the time, the health services assistant director had demanded a second enquiry, with the help of technical experts.
On February 6, 2013, the Peshawar High Court took suo motu notice over purchase of substandard hepatitis C vaccines in various hospitals of the province.
According to a health department source, the recently dispatched vials have been approved after laboratory testing. He said 31 centres run the hepatitis programme across K-P, with four in the provincial capital. More than one centre was established in districts where the number of hepatitis C cases were high, he added.
Hepatitis C control programme director Dr Kalimullah told The Express Tribune the quoted statistics are misleading as the number of patients already treated was also added to the total.
“The actual number of patients with hepatitis C in K-P is around 10,000,” he told The Express Tribune, adding 50,000 vials have been provided by the pharmaceutical companies whereas another 0.25 million will be delivered within a day or two.
Kalimullah maintained although the case was sub-judice and the original supplier’s contract was cancelled, interferon stocks lasted till November 2014 at most centres.
The programme director said public awareness campaigns can play a pivotal role in the control of the disease. “The cure is not only readily available but also free of charge,” he said. He said there are numerous hurdles in the provision of fresh medical stocks but programme officials are trying their best to ensure all centres across the province receive the adequate number of vials.
Interferon is used as the standard hepatitis C treatment, a single vial of which costs around Rs3,000 in the market. Monthly treatment costs can go up to Rs12,000.
According to statistics obtained from the K-P health department, a total of 47,000 patients were diagnosed with hepatitis in 2012-2013 – 10,000 infected by hepatitis B and 37,000 by hepatitis C. It was predicted the numbers could rise significantly in the absence of regular treatment regimes and the inadequate supply of interferon.
In 2012, the World Health Organization declared Pakistan a ‘Cirrhotic State’ because it ranked second on the list of countries with the highest number of hepatitis patients.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2015.
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