Hepatitis is the second most common infection with high mortality rate after tuberculosis in India, and it is estimated that around 5 crore Indians suffer from Hepatitis-B infections while more than 1.2 crore from Hepatitis-C.
On the eve of World Hepatitis Day, experts said vaccination against this virus is as important as against coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation considers hepatitis as a serious ailment, and WHO’s theme for this year is “Hepatitis can’t wait”, conveying the urgency of efforts needed to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.
With a person dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis-related illness, it is important to note that India can’t wait to act on viral hepatitis.
Dr Chandan Kumar, Consultant Hepatologist, Gleneagles Global Hospitals pointed out that Hepatitis-B infection is a major global health problem.
“This virus can cause chronic infection and puts people at high risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer. And another interesting fact is that of the total patients suffering from this condition, around 80 per cent are unaware of it, and hence it is termed as silent invaders in the initial stages. This unawareness further increases the chances of transmission between individuals and delay in treatment leads to poor outcomes later.”
According to Dr P. Anita Reddy, Consultant Gastroenterologist, SLG Hospitals, Hepatitis-B is the second most common cause of cirrhosis in India, after alcohol consumption, and is the leading cause of liver cancers in India.
“Being the most important organ of the body, the liver is involved in a multitude of functions and any abnormality or restriction in its function can severely affect the body and can even lead to death. The inflammation of liver is called hepatitis and is caused due to viral hepatitis, alcohol consumption, drug toxicity, autoimmune etc. Excess fat accumulated in the liver too can cause liver damage,” she said.
Highlighting the importance of vaccination against hepatitis, Dr Raghuram Kondala, Consultant Medical Gastroenterologist, Continental Hospitals, said for many years, a safe and effective vaccine that offers a 98-100 per cent protection against Hepatitis-B is available in India and around the world.
Preventing Hepatitis-B infection averts the development of complications including the development of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. “It is strongly recommended that all infants receive the Hepatitis-B vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours – followed by two or three doses of Hepatitis-B vaccine at least four weeks apart to complete the series. Timely birth dose is an effective measure to reduce transmission from mother-to-child,” he said.
Healthcare sector in the country must highlight the importance of addressing the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HBV and call for increased domestic and international awareness programmes, to prevent Hepatitis-B mother-to-child transmission and expand access to hepatitis prevention, testing and treatment services, with a view to achieving the 2030 elimination targets.
“Many at risk of hepatitis are either unaware of the problem or continue to live in denial, and no ailment can be contained or rooted out unless the community gets involved voluntarily. It is important that relevant authorities, healthcare machinery, civil society, along with those suffering from related ailments, speak more and more about risks associated with hepatitis virus, and stress on the need for vaccination against it. We cannot overcome this problem unless we talk more about it, and strive to prevent its spread,” said Dr B. Sivananda Reddy, Consultant, Medical Gastroenterologist & Hepatologist, Aware Gleneagles Global Hospital.