EDITORIAL: How pervasive yet grossly underestimated are blood-borne and sexually transmissible diseases in this country is simply incredible.
According to data based on 455,742 tests conducted by the Sindh Blood Transfusion Authority (SBTA) in 24 districts of the province during the first eight months of the current year, 24,088 people were found to have been afflicted by one or more infectious diseases; 1,282 of them carried HIV virus; 8,155 tested positive for hepatitis B and A and 7,995 for hepatitis C. Another 6,142 people had syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection. These figures should be worrying enough for the health authorities, all the more so given that all these people had wanted to donate blood to the needy not knowing that they were carriers of potentially life-threatening communicable viruses. They may have already infected many others.
These results show that the overall incidence of these highly contagious afflictions among the general population is much greater than anyone could have imagined. The situation is not any different in other provinces. Some of it is attributable to absence of public awareness, and some to tainted water and unhygienic food ingested by unsuspecting consumers. HIV and hepatitis C are not only sexually transmissible but also via blood transfusions. Yet, in many health facilities blood is given to patients without proper screening. More often than not people are unaware of the implications of this careless, actually unethical, practice. According to those familiar with the prevailing conditions, most health centres and blood banks use testing methods that have 2 to 5 percent chance of showing false negative result. Even that should help if done properly. More effective, they point out, is the nucleic acid test (commonly known as NAT) which produces 99 percent accurate results, but is generally avoided for being costly. Going by the findings of SBTA, the cost factor looks insignificant. Unless something is done urgently to improve blood testing services, spread of infectious diseases could get out of control.
While commenting on the SBTA report, some health experts have urged the government to provide NAT service to the people in private and public sectors at "highly subsidised" rates. As regards the private sector that seems a rather excessive demand, since all costs of tests and treatments are charged from patients. What is needed in the case of private health centres is a stringent check. Nonetheless, subsidised blood testing for communicable diseases in government hospitals makes much sense since a majority of the patients belong to poorer sections of society. And the right to health is one of fundamental rights. Healthier people also result in less burden on hospitals, and consequently less financial burden on governmental shoulders.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021