India lacks accurate data to tackle Hepatitis cases
At a time when millions in India are suffering from Hepatitis C, the country has neither accurate data regarding its prevalence nor policies to support patients. While the world is observing Hepatitis Day to increase awareness about the disease, millions are dying every year in India as the government has no programme to support patients.
The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 with an aim to combat Hepatitis by 2030. The World Health Organization has adopted the Draft Global Health Sector Strategies for viral Hepatitis (2016-2021), identifying areas and strategies for action.
The Indian scenario
The Indian approach can be better understood with the response of Health Minister J P Nadda when he said in the Parliament in 2015, “The figures of Hepatitis C-affected Indians who could not afford medical treatment are not collected centrally.” He thus admitted the lack of data.
Due to the absence of an HCV (chronic Hepatitis C virus) surveillance system in India, there is a complete lack of knowledge about the actual number of people living with HCV-related liver diseases and the people who died of it.
Global studies estimate that there are 8.7 million people living with chronic HCV in India, according to a rights-based analysis on Hepatitis C released on Monday by Lawyers’ Collective, a non-profit.
Experts guess that the prevalence of chronic HCV infection in India is somewhere around one per cent. The disease is mostly prevalent in Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.
A statement released by the Delhi-based Institute of Liver and Biliary Science (ILBS) in 2014 highlighted the approximate number of people living with chronic Hepatitis C infection, which stood around 12 million.
If the situation has not worsened, it has not improved since then, experts say. As per the statement, chronic HCV infection accounts for 12-32 per cent of liver cancer and 10-20 per cent of cirrhosis cases in India. Most people with chronic Hepatitis B or C are unaware of infections and are at serious risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer.
To tackle the deadly disease, the Government of India said that it had launched a national programme for prevention and control of viral Hepatitis during the 12th Five Year Plan period. But there is no activity visible at the ground level.
Anand Grover from Lawyers’ Collective said that at present Hepatitis C is killing more people than HIV/AIDS in India. However, the government has no plans for Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is just one part of the complete burden of viral Hepatitis in India. Hepatitis is a group of infectious diseases divided into A,B,C,D and E. Hepatitis B and C are both blood borne and can be transmitted from one human to another. India has over 40 million Hepatitis B-infected patients (second only to China) and constitutes about 15 per cent of the entire pool of Hepatitis B in the world.
Tribal areas in India have a high prevalence of Hepatitis B. Every year, nearly 600,000 patients die from HBV (Hepatitis B Virus) infection.
Chronic Hepatitis B infection accounts for about 30 per cent of liver cirrhosis and 40-50 per cent of liver cancers in India. Outbreaks of acute and fulminant Hepatitis B still occur mainly due to inadequately sterilised needles and syringes, ILBS director Shiv Sarin has been quoted saying in the statement mentioned above.