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WHO’s hepatitis report is a wake-up call

WHO’s hepatitis report is a wake-up call

India has the second-highest burden of liver diseases in the world, with nearly three crore Hepatitis B patients and more than 50 lakh Hepatitis C patients. Over a lakh patients lost their lives last year.

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Last Updated : 15 April 2024, 23:59 IST
Last Updated : 15 April 2024, 23:59 IST
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The World Health Organisation’s 2024 Global Hepatitis report has expressed concern over the increasing number of cases in the world and the serious challenge that it poses in countries like India. It is the second leading infectious cause of death globally, with 1.3 million deaths per year.

India has the second-highest burden of liver diseases in the world, with nearly three crore Hepatitis B patients and more than 50 lakh Hepatitis C patients. Over a lakh patients lost their lives last year.

There are several challenges in the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis. The most serious problem is that it is hugely under-diagnosed. Less than 30 per cent of Hepatitis C cases are detected in time. In the case of Hepatitis B, it is less than 3 per cent. Without diagnosis and treatment, the disease often becomes fatal for most of the infected persons. 

Hepatitis is a viral infection that spreads through blood or other body fluids. Though many people recover from the infection, it can cause liver failure, cancer or cirrhosis.

Children are in greater danger than adults, and in the case of Hepatitis B, there is no cure. The virus can stay in the body for long periods without detection and can infect many persons who come into contact with the carrier.

In India, free testing and treatment is available under the National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme (NVHCP). The possibility of infection through blood transfusion has been minimised but it is often passed on from mother to child at the time of delivery.

Vaccination is effective against the disease but the vaccine is not administered to many babies. The main reason is that institutional deliveries are still less than 50 per cent in many parts of the country.

The vaccination regime should cover all newborns, and even adults who have not received it should get vaccinated. Hepatitis C is not difficult to treat and can be cured with anti-virals. It does not often cause long-term damage.

Treatment costs are not high for both varieties of the disease but diagnosis needs to be improved to control it. The public health and community medicine systems need to be more alert and active to diagnose the infection early enough and to start the treatment. 

India aims to eliminate hepatitis by 2030. The WHO also has set that goal for the world. It thinks the target is achievable, though there are challenges.

Achieving universal access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in 10 countries in Asia, including India and China, by 2025 and intensified efforts in the African region will take the world close to the target. 

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