Experts urge people to get screened for hepatitis
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By Faiza llyas | 7/28/2018 12:00:00 AM
KARACHI: Sharing worrying statistics that about 20 million people in Pakistan are infected with hepatitis B and C, health experts at a seminar held on Friday urged people to get screened for these two infections, often described as silent killers, as early diagnosis can help in effective treatment.

The event was organised by the Pakistan Society for the Study of Liver Diseases (PSSLD) in collaboration with major public and private sector universities and hospitals to mark World Hepatitis Day being observed on Saturday (July 28).

The theme of this year is `Find the missing millions`.

Highlighting the gravity of health challenges Pakistan faces owing to the growing number of hepatitis B and C patients, expertssaid that Hepatitis Day was a moment to reflect and look into the reasons thatled to the country`s failure in tackling these infections.

`It`s a day to learn what went wrong and what we need to do. Pakistan, unfortunately, is still fighting polio, a disease which has been eradicated elsewhere in the world,` remarked Prof Wasim Jafri, founding president of the society currently associated with Aga Khan University Hospital, suggesting how a country failing in basic healthcare services could take up new challenges.

He emphasised the need for public awareness and said that healthcare professionals should come forward and play their part in disseminating information about hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Both infections, he pointed out, could eventually result in severe liver disease, and in many cases liver cancer, if they were allowed to continue unchecked.`Given the fact that these infections become very complicated and largely untreatable in later stages, people should test themselves for these diseases,` Prof Jafri explained.

Most patients (in Pakistan) with end-stage liver disease and liver cancer, he regretted, were in the prime of their lives and often the sole bread earners of their families.

No noticeable symptoms at early stages Prof Saeed Hamid, former president of the PSSLD, said that the problem was that both hepatitis B and C didn`t cause many symptoms in early stages.

In many cases, according to him, infections are spread through what is called parenteral transmission (the term refers to the passage or transfer of potentially dangerous pathogens via a way other than through the digestive system), which include the use of unsafeblood, use of contaminated needles and syringes, surgical and dental instruments, other sharp objects, like razors, tattoo, ear piercing needles and sometimes sexual transmission.

`If anybody feels that they could have been exposedtohepatitisB andhepatitisCthrough any of these means they should get themselves tested immediately,` he said.

Citing the 2017 WHO data, he said that there were 71 million people infected with hepatitis C in the world whereas the number of such infections in Pakistan stood at 7m to 8m.

`This means that 10pc of the global burden of hepatitis C is borne by Pakistan. Hepatitis C is the fastest growing cancer globally and the single most important cause of liver cancer,` he informed the audience, adding that 40,000 people died ofviralhepatitis annually in the country, which outnumbered the deathscaused by TB, malaria and HIV.

The issue, he pointed out, was that people were not aware that they were carrying the infections and diagnosis was made when the diseasehad already progressedtoanadvanced stage.

`We have all the tools to diagnose and treat the disease. But, there is a serious need for public awareness,` he said, urging health professionals in attendance to act as catalyst and help create awareness.

Experts also shared concern over weak government regulations to ensure that all health facilities follow infection control practices and that safe and healthy blood was transfused.

They also called for improved sanitation and provision of clean drinking water to prevent hepatitis E and other infections.

Prof Zaigham Abbas, Prof Bashir Sheikh, Prof Abdul Qayyum, Dr Suleh Channa and Dr Rauf Memon also spoke.