Viral hepatitis has been recognised as a serious public health problem in India by the World Health Organization (WHO), with an estimated 52 million people infected with chronic hepatitis in the country.
This is placing a huge disease, social and economic burden on the affected families as well as the health system, the UN agency said.
Latest assessment by WHO shows that in India, 40 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis B and six to 12 million people with Hepatitis C. Besides these, the Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is the most important cause of epidemic hepatitis, while Hepatitis A (HAV) is more common among children. Most cases of acute liver failure are attributable to HEV . Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Viral hepatitis is a widespread infectious disease normally caused by the hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to liver fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer.
There is need for immediate and urgent action to arrest the spread of hepatitis.In the Southeast Asia region, viral hepatitis is driving rates of liver cancer and cirrhosis, and is causing premature death and disease with over 100 million people chronically infected with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. These deaths were unacceptable as there is an effective vaccine and treatment for Hepatitis B, and over 90% of Hepatitis C patients can be cured with treatment.
A bigger concern is that most people infected with the virus are unaware of it. A staggering 95% of people suffering from chronic hepatitis around the world do not know they are infected and, therefore, succumb to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. According to WHO, one reason for this is that patients live for years without exhibiting symptoms, and when they find out, it is often too late.This has prompted the UN agency to come up with its first-ever hepatitis testing guidelines, which will be released this year. WHO has also asked member countries, including India, to step up efforts to arrest its spread.
Concerns are not limited to India. The assessment shows the infection, as well as is its consequent mortality , increasing rapidly worldwide. Globally , around 400 million people are infected with Hepatitis B and C, more than 10 times the number of people living with HIV . According to WHO, deaths from the infection have risen to an estimated 1.45 million in 2013 from less than a million in 1990.