28th July is World Hepatitis Day, and to shine some light on an issue which is not taken as seriously as it should be let’s discuss what Ayesha, a 35-year-old girl went through. She worked at a salon and one fateful day which was like any other she was rushed to emergency because of intense pain in her abdomen and 24 hours later the doctors had exhausted all efforts to try and save her life and Ayesha was declared dead. During the tests carried out at the hospital, the doctors found Ayesha to be suffering from Hepatitis B which her family was unaware of because she had never shown any symptoms of the disease.
Cases like this one are not uncommon in the world, especially where an estimated 887,000 people died of Hepatitis B in 2015. Hepatitis is a disease that is epidemic, especially in Pakistan where about 18 million people are suffering from Hepatitis B and C and each year brings about 150,000 new cases, which means that about 400 people are losing their life to Hepatitis each day in Pakistan.
Medically, Hepatitis is defined as an inflammation of the liver while viral hepatitis refers to hepatitis caused by a few specific viruses including A, B, C, D and E. The most common types are Hepatitis A, B and C while Hepatitis B and C can cause chronic hepatitis, leading to death. The story of Ayesha, a common girl with no underlying conditions shows that this disease strikes fasts and without notice. Having said that the readers and health care professionals in the region can work for the reduction of disease burden by following a few principles including, educating the masses, raising awareness and enabling common people.
The following steps can be taken to eliminate the spread of Hepatitis:
- Stopping the reuse of syringes
- Following proper sterilization protocols for the invasive medical devices used during surgeries and dental procedures
- Stop the sharing of razors
- Following proper sterilization protocols for reusable instruments
- By making sure that the drinking water is not contaminated and providing a safe water supply
- Training the medical staff on safe injection practices
- Proper waste management
- Regulating blood transfusions
- Adequate hepatitis screening
- Improved hygiene and sanitization
- Food safety
- Proper immunization, making sure each individual gets vaccinated
The key challenges for an effective response are:
- Lack of awareness and knowledge about the disease
- Limited timely and reliable data available on coverage and quality of essential hepatitis services
- Unnecessary injection practices
- Unregulated blood transfusions
- Lack of knowledge amongst the medical staff on the proper syringe and waste disposal
- Inadequate screening
- Limited access to the treatment
- Improper sanitization
- Insufficient clean drinking water
- The practice of reusing instruments in salons and barbershops
- Inadequate sterilization protocols in hospitals and dental clinics
Hepatitis B works on prevention rather than cure, having a vaccine but no treatment, while Hepatitis C has no vaccine but a treatment option is available if the virus is detected. What is very important for everyone to know is the various ways that the infection can be contracted and how to avoid the infection. As the famous saying goes, awareness is half the battle.