LAHORE - Inordinate delay in procurement of interferon is hampering treatment of thousands of registered hepatitis patients in the province who have left with no other option but to purchase costly injections from the market or suffer deadly complications.

The Punjab government has registered around 0.15 million hepatitis patients for providing six month long free treatment under its Hepatitis Control Programme.

Interruption in treatment could cause complications including life taking liver cirrhosis. Hepatitis patients need three interferon injections in a week for six months for decreasing virus load and bringing it to normal level. In resistant cases, peg interferon needed to be injected once in a week for six months.

In normal cases, interruption in treatment could make virus resistant and the patients needed high dose of peg interferon. In resistant cases, patients could not afford any interruption in treatment as it could lead to liver cirrhosis. In normal cases, treatment costs Rs30,000. In resistant cases, treatment expenditures increase to Rs55000.

“There is shortage of interferon since November 2014. But now interferon and PCR kits are out of stock due to delay in procurement. Patients are asked to purchase interferon from the market and carryout tests on own cost due to unavailability at government hospitals,” said an official at Punjab Health Department who wanted not to be quoted.

“What to say about far flung areas of Punjab when even the patients getting treatment at tertiary care hospitals in Lahore are forced to purchase interferon from market.”

“One kind hearted philanthropist is arranging interferon for my cousin for the last one month. Patients are getting treatment from own pocket or with the financial assistance of philanthropists. Government is paying no heed to the hue and cry of poor hepatitis patients”, said Nisar Ahmed whose cousin is getting treatment at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

According to a survey conducted by this scribe, the situation was the same at other teaching hospitals in Lahore.

Punjab Health Director General Dr Zahid Pervaiz said the department has supplied sufficient stock of interferon to all the districts for treatment of registered hepatitis patients. Admitting shortage of peg interferon needed for treatment of resistant cases, he said the injection could not be procured as matter was under litigation.

“Peg interferon for children has been procured and supplied to all the districts. Injections for adult patients have not been procured due to litigation initiated by pharmaceutical companies. We are pursuing the case and the injections would be procured after court decision,” he said.

Dr Pervaiz said the Health Department has floated idea of introducing Sovaldi Tablet, most effective treatment for hepatitis.

“Tablet Sovaldi is an effective treatment for Hepatitis C. We want to replace interferon with Sovaldi. Though treatment with Sovaldi is four time expensive than interferon, it is more effective,” he said, adding the Health Department has prepared PC-1 of the project. He said the government would import Sovaldi soon after approval of PC-1 from the P&D Department.

The Punjab government has allocated Rs4 billion for Hepatitis Control Programme as against Rs400 million in the previous fiscal year, the Health DG said.