Over 5 million people could die of viral hepatitis in the next decade in South-East Asia region,according World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates.
The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection,which inflammates the liver,is one of the major public health problems globally and is the tenth leading cause of death. More than two billion people world-wide have evidence of HBV infection and there are more than 350 million chronic carriers of this infection,including nearly 40 million people in India.
“WHO estimates that more than five million people in the Southeast Asia region will die from the consequences of viral hepatitis in the next 10 years,” the WHO said.
The WHO estimates that an estimated 100 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B infection and 30 million people with chronic hepatitis C infection in the region.
The WHO warning,which comes ahead of the World Hepatitis Day on July 28,will help in increasing awareness and understanding of the viral hepatitis and diseases it causes.
“Viral hepatitis must be given greater priority in terms of both resources and effort. Good surveillance is essential. Infant immunization coverage for hepatitis B must reach levels greater than 95 per cent.
“It should be mandatory for all blood and blood products to be screened for hepatitis B and C,” WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia,Samlee Plianbangchang said.
There are seven types of viruses can cause viral hepatitis,called hepatitis A to G. Of these,the most common causes of infection are with one of four viruses: hepatitis A,B,C and E. All of these viruses can cause an acute illness with symptoms lasting several weeks,including yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice); dark urine; extreme fatigue; nausea; vomiting and abdominal pain. The WHO has said that due to the asymptomatic nature of chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C,most people infected with them are not aware of their status till they have symptoms of cirrhosis or liver cancer many years later.
“About 65 per cent of those with hepatitis B and 75 per cent of those with hepatitis C do not know they are infected. An effective vaccine has been available to prevent hepatitis B since 1982.
Hepatitis A and hepatitis E are also serious health problems. Approximately 12 million cases of hepatitis E infection occur annually in the region,which accounts for more than half the global burden.
Both diseases thrive in unsanitary conditions where they are transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food or water,the WHO said,adding that in most countries in South-East Asia,increased development has led to rapid urbanization and crowded,overpopulated cities where conditions are perfect for the spread of these viruses.
“The quality of hepatitis testing in public and private laboratories needs to be monitored,” said Plianbangchang,even as WHO is developing a strategy for prevention and control of viral hepatitis in South-East Asia.
To support this initiative,the UN health agency brought health experts from 11 countries together to help finalise this strategy which address the areas of policy,planning and resource mobilization; surveillance,prevention and control,education,medical care and treatment and research.