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Actor Amitabh Bachchan has been roped in as goodwill ambassador by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) South East Asia region to take the fight against hepatitis forward. According to WHO estimates, of the 4.1 lakh global deaths due to the viral infection, India carries the burden of 60 per cent of the disease. While the global target is to eradicate the disease by 2030, India has still not set a target to completely eradicate it.
“The cost of drugs in India is much lower than the west. In India, hepatitis medicines cost $120 for three months as opposed to $85000 in USA,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director.
Punjab has already launched a free screening and treatment program for hepatitis owing to a huge population involved in injectable drug usage. Across India, other states are yet to draft a separate programme for hepatitis treatment.
“Discussions are underway to push for a separate programme to handle the viral disease, just like the polio programme run by the union health ministry,” said Dr Samir Shah, head of hepatology at the Global hospital, Parel.
According to Bachchan, who is also an ambassador for tuberculosis and has campaigned for polio eradication, early screening is the key to treat the disease. “I am told only 10 per cent of those suffering from hepatitis know about the diagnosis. I lived with the disease for several years before it was diagnosed as cirrhosis of liver,” said Bachchan at the event held on Friday.
To prevent the infection, hepatitis vaccination is given at the time of birth followed by three doses in first six months under the national Indradhanush program. There is, however, no nationwide screening actively undertaken to treat the disease on priority basis.
Globally, in 2015, WHO estimated that 257 million people live with hepatitis B infection and 71 million live with hepatitis C.
The economic cost of treatment is much higher even after subsidized drug cost in India. “But the cost of diagnosing and treating early is much lower than late diagnosis which may lead to need for liver transplant,” said Dr Henk Bekedam , WHO representative to India.