ISLAMABAD - The government is launching a Hepatitis C virus elimination program as the prevalence of the virus has doubled among Pakistanis in the past ten years affecting more than 10 percent of the population. To combat the high prevalence of Hepatitis C virus, the government is planning to launch a comprehensive Prime Minister’s programme for the testing, treatment and elimination of the Hepatitis C, official sources told The Nation here on Sunday.

Hepatitis C is considered a national public health emergency in Pakistan and that’s why a comprehensive programme is being launched at the federal level to combat the virus, said the sources. In 2008, Hepatitis C virus was prevalent among 5 percent Pakistanis which has been increased to 10 percent till 2018, said the source. The data shows, that in Pakistan about 21 million out of 210 million population will screen positive, the source added.

Globally Pakistan had the highest prevalence of Hepatitis C following the Egypt, said the source. Several interventions were launched in the past on the federal level for prevention and control of Hepatitis and after the 18th amendment the subject was transferred to the provinces where they had introduce their own program to combat the disease. Common mode of transmission for Hepatitis B, C and D includes improperly screened blood transfusion or blood products, improperly sterilized invasive medical devises, unsafe injection and unsafe sex.

The source said that the  foreign contributor to Prime Minister’s programme for the elimination of the virus includes the technical assistance from Asian Development Bank, World Bank, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). The amount of capital assistance is $810.06 million, said the source.

 The scope of the programme includes cost of screening, confirmation and treatment. In the first year of the programme total 250000 cases will be dealt which will be increased to 140 million by the end of the programme in 2025. Rapid test for all the target population of 140 million is also part of the 2019-2025 programme, said the source.

It is estimated that Hepatitis C has a prevalence of approximately 3 per cent globally which is affecting more than 170 million people. Hepatitis leads to severe complications such as liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and early mortality. The prevalence of hepatitis C in the general population globally varies from 2% to 18% with lowest prevalence in America and Europe and highest among African, Eastern Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian countries.

The concept paper of Prime Minister’s programme for the testing, treatment and elimination of the Hepatitis C was presented to the Planning Commission where it was observed by the planning experts that the Hepatitis Programme is already operational in the provinces and an additional anti-Hepatitis C drive may duplicate resources and activities. The PC-I of the project will be presented to the Federal Planning Commission by the end of the year, said the source.