India needs to improve hepatitis C surveillance

India stands fourth among 11 countries which carry almost 50 per cent of the global burden of chronic hepatitis. Eliminating of hepatitis C virus (HCV) remains a major challenge for India as it is not preventable by vaccination. Early determination of the disease is important

India needs to improve hepatitis C surveillance

World Hepatitis Day is observed on July 28 every year. This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designed a global health sector strategy on viral hepatitis for 2016-2021 with a goal to eliminate viral hepatitis as a major public health threat by 2030. India stands fourth among 11 countries which carry almost 50 per cent of the global burden of chronic hepatitis. Eliminating of hepatitis C virus (HCV) remains a major challenge for India as it is not preventable by vaccination.

A clinic for hepatitis C has been set up in PL Sharma District Hospital in Uttar Pradesh by Doctors Without Borders in collaboration with the National Health Mission of Uttar Pradesh. Merely in seven months from Jan 2017 to July 2017, over 700 patients of hepatitis C have been diagnosed. This is just the tip of the iceberg. According to the WHO, in India, it is estimated that 6 to 12 million people are infected with hepatitis C and they have limited access to testing and treatment facilities.

While highlighting the need for better surveillance for hepatitis C in India, Dr Stobdan Kalon, Medical Coordinator, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said, “There is a lack of comprehensive official data regarding HCV prevalence in India.  As of now, there is no national policy as such to tackle viral hepatitis. National Action Plan (NAP) is still a work in progress. The Ministry of Health needs to develop a national strategic plan and standards of care for HCV as well as programmatic guidelines for HCV.”

New hepatitis infections continue to occur. Increasing hepatitis C virus infection in adults is a major challenge for India. It mostly spreads through unsafe injection practices such as drug use via injections and unsafe healthcare. A person can also be infected due to the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products and children born to mothers infected with hepatitis C virus. That is why it is important to adopt preventive methods. Early determination of the disease is important.

“Consequences of undermining this silent killer could lead to an increased burden on patients and the public health sector. Considering that hepatitis C treatment is cheaper in the country as compared to Europe, there is a need for a concerted effort from both private and public health sector in India to tackle this disease,” said Dr Stobdan Kalon.