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KARACHI: Due to reuse of syringes, poor infection control and the unsafe, unscreened blood transfusions, Pakistan now has highest rate of Hepatitis B and C where according to an estimate, over 15 million people are infected with deadly viral disease, experts said and called for screening of entire population of Pakistan for the viral hepatitis.

"Pakistan is faced with one of the highest new annual infection rates of hepatitis C virus and is launching a new infection control and injection safety plan on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day 2019 to stop transmission. Unfortunately, majority of people infected with Hepatitis B and C don't even aware that they are infected and carrying the viral disease. It is immensely important that every Pakistani is screened for Hepatitis B and C", said Dr. Sajjad Jamil, an eminent gastroenterologist and President of Pak GI and Liver Disease Society (PGLDS) while speaking an awareness session held at Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Saturday.

Over 100 journalists, their family members and employees of the Karachi Press Club (KPC) were screened for Hepatitis B and C at screening camp, organized by the PGLDS in collaboration with the health committee of Karachi Press Club (KPC). An awareness session on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis B&C and a walk was also held after the screening camp to draw the attention of people towards the lethal disease.

Speaking on the occasion, PGLDS President Dr. Sajjad Jamil maintained that Pakistan had emerged as the only country in the world where Hepatitis B and C infections were on the rise and added that major cause of infection is lack of awareness, reuse of syringes, poor infection control, unsafe blood transfusions and use of unsterilized dental and surgical equipment in the country.

"The high prevalence of hepatitis is due to many factors in both healthcare settings and in the community," said Dr. Sajjad Jamil adding that this includes reuse of syringes, failure to screen blood before transfusion, use of unhygienic dental instruments, reuse of razor blades by barbers and poor infrastructure for infectious waste disposal.

He maintained that elimination of Hepatitis C will require screening of the entire general population, which is challenging but could be optimized through first targeting subpopulations with higher prevalence and improving their linkage to treatment.

Patron of the PGLDS and renowned gastroenterologist Dr. Shahid Ahmed said the message on the current World Hepatitis Day 2019 is very clear that every Pakistani needs to be screened for Hepatitis B and C so that those tested positive could be treated, saying treatment for viral hepatitis is now available and very cost-effective.

"We daily see patients with liver cirrhosis which is the last stage of the liver disease due to viral hepatitis. It also leads to Hepatocellular Carcinoma or cancer of the liver, which is a serious illness and in most of the cases, it leads to death if liver transplant is not performed. the best solution to avoid these conditions is early screening and if the result is positive, start treatment", Dr. Shahid Ahmed maintained.

Another leading hepatologist and expert from Liaquat National Hospital Dr. Lubana Kamani was of the opinion that Pakistan may be turned into a “cirrhotic state” and Hepatitis C could become "second polio for Pakistan" if a mass awareness and screening of Pakistani population for the viral hepatitis is not started immediately.

"Fortunately, Hepatitis B and C are now completely treatable and curable diseases but unfortunately, Pakistani is the only country in the world where new cases of hepatitis are on the rise alarmingly. Every pregnant woman in Pakistan should be screened for viral hepatitis to prevent its transmission to the baby", she advised.

Registrar, Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) Dr. Amanullah Abbassi and HEad of the Gastroenterology Department, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC) Dr. Nazish Butt also called for screening of each and every person in Pakistan for Hepatitis B&C, saying the infection was spreading by the people who were unaware of their disease and this must be stopped at the earliest.

Later, a walk was held in front of Karachi Press Club (KPC) which was attended by doctors, journalists and common people, who were carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans and demands regarding Hepatitis B and C elimination from Pakistan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019