Nagaland should respond to spread of Hepatitis problem: HepCoN
Figures procured from NHAK show that 1.8% of the general population of the State tested positive in past seven years.
Correspondent | EMN
KOHIMA, AUGUST 9
TAKING note of the gravity in prevalence of Hepatitis C in Nagaland and observing that the state needed to respond to this problem like it had to HIV and AIDS, an organisation, under the aegis of Hepatitis Coalition of Nagaland (HepCoN) was jointly formed today by Kripa Foundation Nagaland, Nagaland Users Network, NNP+, KUN, KNP+ and few like-minded individuals. The formation of HepCon is the outcome of the two day community workshop on Hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment and advocacy held here at LCS Building, Kohima which concluded on Friday.
“We felt the need for a collaborated effort of all stakeholders across the board like HIV and AIDS movement. Therefore, to facilitate the process we have formed HepCoN,” said Abou Mere, convenor HepCoN and president Indian Drug Users Forum.
Addressing media persons after the formation of HepCoN, Abou stated that the severity of Hepatitis C situation in Nagaland is well documented by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) through Integrated Bio Behavioural Assessment (IBBA) study. He pointed out that the study indicates that prevalence rates among injecting drug users from Phek and Wokha are at 8.7% and 20.8 % respectively whereas in Kohima (Kripa Foundation IDUs referral to NHAK) the prevalence rate is at 25%. He also said that figures procured from Naga Hospital Authority Kohima (NHAK) show that 1.8% of the general population of the state tested positive in past seven years alone with a rising trend in number.
Despite this data, Mere said no substantial step has been taken by the state government, health department, civil society, churches, and NGOs. He expressed concern over lack of awareness and asserted that many of those infected with hepatitis are uninformed as most people who have the infection have no symptoms, and therefore may go undiagnosed and untreated, posing a risk of further transmission.
While acknowledging the way the state responded to HIV on “war footing” with all the stakeholders (Nagaland government, NSACS, LFA, civil societies, churches, NGOs and CBOs) doing their part and bringing down HIV prevalence in the state, HepCoN observes that however, politically, hepatitis is being overlooked or ignored, even though it poses a more serious health complication and a greater devastating impact to the state.
Mere emphasized that health is a state matter and it is the responsibility of the state government to facilitate and promote health and take care of its citizens’ health. “Therefore, it is state government’s obligation to take legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, promotional and other measures for realization of the right to health and also take measures,” he added, saying Nagas should not continue to get infected with hepatitis, which is preventable, or die from complications related to the curable disease (HCV) just for the reason of being to unable to afford treatment.
He said the objective of HepCoN is to strengthen prevention efforts and to advocate for affordable treatment, and to promote health.
Henminlun Gangte, regional coordinator for International Treatment Preparedness Coalition- South Asia, who was a resource person at the workshop on HCV Treatment Literacy and Advocacy programme, attributed the rise in Hepatitis C prevalence in Nagaland to low level of information and awareness on HCV. He said a positive step in checking the epidemic of the virus will be if the state government gives attention to HCV and come up with treatment guidelines. Gangte also pointed that HCV being tenfold more infectious than HIV, it may become a full blown epidemic in a few years time if left ignored.
Testimonials were also given by three HCV positive persons from Kohima and Dimapur. They expressed dismay that HCV is an ignored component in the health sector in Nagaland as there is only one Hepatitis clinic in the entire state, which is at NHAK. They advocated that there should be at least one clinic each in all the districts. They also laid emphasis on the high cost of treatment. “We are willing to assist the government and medical fraternity in any way so as to subsidize rates of medicines for treatment,” one of them stated.
The annual treatment for people with hepatitis C reportedly costs around Rs.8 lakhs.
Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus and can be transmitted through contact with an infected person’s blood from sharing razor or toothbrush, sharing needle with someone infected with hepatitis C, having unprotected sex with someone having hepatitis C, accidental prick by a needle infected with hepatitis C, piercing, tattoo (with contaminated ink or needle), receiving blood products for haemophilia, receiving unscreened blood & blood product etc.