KARACHI: The country needs a comprehensive strategy to address the high prevalence of hepatitis in Pakistan including expansion of screening programme and discouraging unnecessary use of injections, a practice which increases chances of blood-borne infections.
Currently, an estimated 15 million people are infected with hepatitis B and C in Pakistan, which has the highest therapeutic use of injection worldwide and ranked second in the prevalence of hepatitis C infection.
Dr Wasim Jafri, a senior gastroenterologist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, shared this information at a seminar organised at Karachi University recently.
Titled ‘Strategies for Eliminating Viral Hepatitis from Pakistan’, the event was jointly organised by Dr Panjwani Centre for Molecular Medicine and Drug Research (PCMD) and Virtual Education Project Pakistan.
Giving a presentation on the subject, Dr Jafri said hepatitis was a major global health problem which brought nations together to devise a global health strategy under the WHO. The strategy endorsed by all WHO member states aimed at reducing new hepatitis infections by 90 per cent and deaths by 65pc between 2016 and 2030.
On the prevalence of hepatitis in Pakistan, he said all five hepatitis viruses were common here, making the disease endemic to the country.
“The symptoms ... can include jaundice, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and fever,” he said, adding that annually hepatitis caused more deaths worldwide than diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Infections of hepatitis B and C, he said, were life-threatening. The latter, a major cause of liver cancer, was curable if the patient was diagnosed in a timely manner.
“There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C while hepatitis B can be prevented by the use of a vaccine which is safe and effective. This infection is not curable but can be treated,” he said, adding that hepatitis B virus attacked the liver and could cause both acute and chronic disease.
On hepatitis A and E, Dr Jafri informed the audience that those viruses often caused jaundice.
Hepatitis, he said, could be caused by drugs, alcohol, some toxins as well by infection with some bacteria, viruses or parasites.
He pointed out that hepatitis B and C could be transmitted through exposure to infected blood and from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth.
“Transmission may also occur through transfusion of infected blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, sharing of contaminated needles by drug users and unprotected sex,” he said.
These viruses posed a serious risk to healthcare workers who could sustain accidental needle injuries while attending to infected hepatitis patients.
Treatment could be successful with timely diagnosis, he added.