LAHORE/Karachi - Like other parts of the globe, the World Hepatitis Day will be observed across the country on Sunday (tomorrow) to raise awareness about viral hepatitis, precautionary measures and treatment. Seminars, workshops, drives and free camps will be arranged by public sector and private health institutions to mark the event.

According to reports, Pakistan is facing an epidemic of Hepatitis. National prevalence of Hepatitis B is 2.4 percent and Hepatitis C is 4.9 percent. Currently, there are an estimated 16 million persons infected by this disease. Main reasons for the spread of this disease are frequent use of therapeutic injections, reuse of syringes, inappropriate sterilisation practices and hospital waste management system. Pakistan Medical and Research Council conducted a national population survey to find actual prevalence of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in Pakistan in 2007.

In survey about 47,043 persons screened, of whom the Hepatitis B prevalence came as 2.4% and Hepatitis C at 4.9%, making an aggregate of 7.4%.  This comes to an estimated number of exposures to the population of 12 million.

If we look at provincial situations then Hepatitis B prevalence comes to 2.5%, 2.4%, 1.3% and 4.3% in Sindh, Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan respectively. While figures for Hepatitis C were 5%, 6.7%, 1.1% and 1.5% in Sindh, Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan respectively. The prevalence varied greatly in between the districts of each province with some districts showing high Hepatitis B figures while others showed high Hepatitis C figures.

Frequent use of injections (30% population taking more than 10 injections per person per year) and reuse of syringes, showed strong association of Hepatitis C infections. Using scientific tools, WHO identified a total of 30 districts showing very high prevalence for Hepatitis B and C diseases. These are the districts where WHO in collaboration with the Provincial Hepatitis Control Programmes will work to stop the spread of this infection.

High number of injections has been found to be the commonest source of spreading the disease apart from reuse of syringes where it was clear that with the reuse of syringe the frequency of Hepatitis C almost doubled. Improper sterilisation and unsafe blood transfusion also stood out as the common sources of disease spread.

To control the spread of hepatitis, the government launched the national strategy for hepatitis control in the country in 2005. WHO is working in areas such as strengthening of Hepatitis B vaccination in children under EPI program, safe and clean water for everyone, ensuring safe blood transfusion system, trainings of health care providers, sterilisation practices and injection safety and starting an awareness raising program for the population on spread and prevention of Hepatitis B and C in high prevalence districts of Pakistan.

More than 1 million people die from causes related to viral hepatitis, most commonly cirrhosis and liver cancer. Millions of people are living with the virus and millions of others are subjected to be infected.  “Although it is one of the most serious health issues faced by human race but unfortunately the awareness level is not upto the mark especially the scenario gets worst in developing countries like Pakistan,” said a health expert.