NGOs for political will to fight Hepatitis
Our Correspondent | EMN
Kohima, July 28
Nagaland today joined the rest of the world in observing World Hepatitis Day with a programme in the Zonal Hall of Kohima. The event was held under the aegis of the Nagaland Users Network in collaboration with Kohima Users’ Network, Network of Naga People Leaving with HIV/AIDS and Kripa Foundation.Observing the day under the theme “This is hepatitis: know it, confront it”, the organizers demanded political will so that the government’s department of Health and Family Welfare (HWF) can ‘take up projects to create awareness for diagnosis and treatment as well as create awareness amongst the mass to do away with stigma and discrimination.
Speaking on the occasion as the chief guest, Principal Director of Health and Family Welfare Dr Neiphi Kire said the five viruses, Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E that cause infection of liver are responsible for a “widely prevalent and growing diseases burden.”
“It is a fact that due to low awareness 80% of the HBV and HCV are detected only after the disease becomes irreversible. Hepatitis B and C cause 57% of Liver Cirrhosis and 78% of Primary liver cancer,” he stated.
Explaining that prevention of hepatitis will also lower high prevalence of cancer in the State, Dr Kire said, “The infection of Hepatitis B and C remain without symptoms for decades while actively transmitting the infection to other healthy persons. Therefore, these are silent killers.”
He estimated that the incidence of Hepatitis is higher in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal and Mizoram but ‘Nagaland cannot be far behind since it is the third most HIV prevalent State in the country.’
Further, acknowledging that the non-governmental organizations in Nagaland have been working hard to give importance to the emerging ‘public problem,’ he was hopeful that a campaign against Hepatitis will soon be a government driven programme and not an NGO-initiative. As the treatment of Hepatitis is costly, it may not be possible for the state government alone top provide enough funds for treatment as the state being under resource constraints, he said.
Dwelling on the impact of Hepatitis C, president of Indian Drug Users’ Forum (IDUF) and Director of Kripa Foundation Nagaland Abou Mere said there are multiple causes of transmission of Hepatitis B and C. They could be from unsafe blood transfusion, use of contaminated surgical equipments, unsafe dental procedures, ear piercing or tattooing and unsafe injection. With no government-led surveillance system in place in the country, the extent of Hepatitis prevalence is not documented and the burden of the disease is through data and information from independent studies, he said.
In the context of Nagaland, he said although not much studies have been undertaken, the gravity of Hepatitis C a problem is well-documented by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Government of India through the integrated Bio Behavioral Assessment study.
The study indicates that among the injecting drug users from Nagaland two districts of Phek and Wokha showed prevalence rate of 8.7 and 20.8% respectively, he said. Kripa Foundation IDUs’ referral to Naga Hospital reveals that Kohima has a prevalence rate of 25%. He regretted that in spite of having such high data, nothing substantial has been done to provide treatment or improve services relating to HCV.
Mere said the situation is farther compounded by the exorbitant cost of Pegylated Interferon (drug/medicine) because of which people who have HCV are not able to afford treatment.
He appreciated the joint initiatives of Nagaland Hospital Authority Kohima and MSD Pharmaceuticals Private Limited in providing free diagnosis (HCV antibody, genotyping and viral load test) and subsidy on Pegylated Interferon.
Mere also rued that that the State government lacks political will to deal with Hepatitis. “Politically, hepatitis is simply overlooked or ignored, the lack of political will from the state government and uncommitted from the HWF department to address HCV may cost many lives,” he feared. He also pointed that people are dying from complications related to a curable disease (HCV) rather than HIV, which is currently incurable.
“However there is a lack of investment in promoting awareness on prevention and treatment in the state,” he said while appealing to the chief minister, health minister and the health department to take appropriate action urgently and start providing prevention services, care and treatment.