Need to have potable water, improve hygiene to curb hepatitis

Need to have potable water, improve hygiene to curb hepatitis

Poor water supply and sanitation, and neglected public health system are the root causes of heavy burden of hepatitis-infected people in the country, experts said on Saturday. India and China have the highest proportion of such patients in South-East Asia.

Speaking on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS), Delhi health minister A K Walia said, hepatitis A and E are caused by contaminated water and sanitation and the government should work on it. 

“But the biggest burden for India is hepatitis B and C. Worst part is that at times they are not detected for decades,” said Dr Walia.

Noting importance of liver, Dr Shiv Sarin, director, ILBS, said, “For people heart is the priority. But a healthy liver is important for a healthy heart as one will be able to get rid of diseases like diabetes which leads to heart troubles.” 

He cautioned that hepatitis rarely  shows symptoms until very late and during this time, he or she may keep spreading the infection to other uninfected population.

An infected person can transmit hepatitis virus through sexual intercourse, blood transfusion and fecal disposal. 

Dr Nata Menabde, World Health Organisation representative to India, said hepatitis is related to scattered infrastructure and laboratories in India. 

“There are 50 public laboratories in India. Some test tuberculosis, others some other diseases. We need to integrate them all together,” she said.

She said spreading them and maintaining the campaign are costly initiatives and the governments should prepare themselves for it.

“From the example of polio eradication we have learnt how costly it is. We have to integrate the campaigns. For example, if we ask people to wash hands before eating, it takes care of not only hepatitis, but many other infection driven diseases and epidemics,” said Dr Menabde.

Pointing at lack of focus on public health, Prof K Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India, said, “We need well qualified public health experts who can conduct research among communities. We also need health functionaries to draft policies. Their collective expertise should be used to formalise programmes to deal with such diseases.”He added that action is needed at the state, community and individual level. 

“The state has to ensure adequate waste disposal, especially human waste. At community level, resident welfare associations should be engaged to bring about behavioural change vis-a-vis clean environment and health check-ups. At the individual level personal hygiene should be promoted,” said Prof Reddy.

No resources

He said huge amount of funds are available for HIV-AIDS, but there are hardly any resources to deal with hepatitis even though it kills more people every year. 

About 6,00,000 people die every year due to acute or chronic consequences of hepatitis B alone, nearly 100 times more than HIV / AIDS.

Appreciating awareness created in the nearby Vasant Kunj area by ILBS, he said such community initiatives are needed more.

“We have distributed 13,000 flyers in the community. Now we will conduct health check-ups. We will engage the community more,” said Dr Sarin.

ILBS organised a mass awareness campaign and liver screening camp at the hospital on Saturday. 

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