India rolled out National Viral Hepatitis Control Program (NVHCP) on Sunday, with an aim to eliminate viral hepatitis that infects and kills more than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined, doctors say.
The Union minister of State, health & family welfare, Ashwini Kumar Choubey launched the “National Action Plan – Viral Hepatitis” in Mumbai.
Viral hepatitis is recognized as an important public health problem across the world.
According to WHO estimates, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths globally in 2015, a number comparable to deaths due to tuberculosis, worldwide.
In India, it is estimated that there are 4 crore people suffering from Hepatitis B and 0.6-1.2 crore people suffering from Hepatitis C.
The National Action Plan was developed by experts in the field from across the country.
Hepatitis B and C— the two viral strains of the disease that cause inflammation (swelling) of the liver— account for maximum number of deaths, if not detected in time.
As part of the programme, the government is providing free drugs at all government hospitals for those suffering from hepatitis B and C. People receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS will be especially screened and, if found positive, put on treatment.
The disease is known to be caused by five known hepatitis viruses – A, B, C, D and E— and is largely preventable. Of the five viruses, hepatitis A and E are water-borne diseases that are less severe in nature, while the remaining strains are blood-borne and can be fatal if not detected or treated in time.
Hepatitis B and C are transmitted through unsafe sexual practices, use of an infected syringe, mother-to-child, and infected blood transfusion, among others.
“Hepatitis B and C usually leads to chronic liver condition and if not treated in time can also result in irreversible liver damage,” says Dr MP Sharma, New Delhi-based senior gastroenterologist.
While there is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B, the infection has no cure. The infected person will have to take medicines for life to keep the virus at bay. There is no vaccine against hepatitis C, but the infection can be cured with treatment that lasts for three to six months.
Focus under the program is also on screening of pregnant women for hepatitis B, in places where institutional delivery is less than 80%, to ensure provision of birth dose hepatitis B vaccination and Hepatitis B immunoglobulin, if required.
“The aim is to eliminate hepatitis by 2030. I am confident that the programme will be successful. India plans to have a decentralized health management for hepatitis, which is necessary for effective treatment. An integrated plan is being prepared, with the involvement of doctors, experts and state governments,” said Choubey.
First Published: Feb 25, 2019 15:43 IST