KARACHI - Hepatitis is playing havoc with the lives of Pakistanis. Out of five common types of hepatitis – A, B, C, D and E – prevalence of hepatitis B in Pakistan is six million and that of hepatitis C is seven million. Overall, 15 million people somehow harbor hepatitis viruses in their bodies.

These views were expressed by Dr Syed Hussain Askary, Head of Dental Public Health and Director Academics & Administration, Fatima Jinnah Dental College (FJDC) Karachi, while delivering a key note at a seminar organised by Fatima Jinnah Dental College & Hospital on Tuesday. FJDC Principal Dr Tasleem Hosein was also present on the occasion.

Dr Askary said with a national prevalence of 4.9 per cent for hepatitis C and 2.4 per cent for hepatitis B, Pakistan is currently facing an epidemic of viral hepatitis.

According to WHO, “Hepatitis is one of the most prevalent and serious infectious condition in the world. Many people - including health policy makers - remain unaware of its staggering toll on global health. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection.”

Dr Askary said on 28th of July every year is declared as World Hepatitis Day by the WHO. This year’s slogan is “This is Hepatitis. Know it. Confront it”. The slogan inspired him to immediately take the bull by its horns and along with the faculty of the College; the entire month of July 2013 was dedicated to know and confront Hepatitis. Vigorous campaigning; activities involving doctors of various hospitals, schools teachers, faculties of colleges and universities, medical and dental students volunteers and community were motivated,” he said.

He also highlighted the fact that numerous programs in the last 10 years had been announced by the government; websites illustrate elaborate plans, but what has actually been implemented and what outcomes have been achieved remains a mystery for all of us. He declared that his aim has moved on from creating awareness, to ensuring commitment of the government and the people. This will lead to action and hence address the "silent epidemic".

Millions of people are living with viral hepatitis and millions more are at risk of becoming infected. Most people with chronic infection with hepatitis B or C are unaware and they continue to carry the virus. They are therefore at high risk of developing severe chronic liver disease and can unknowingly transmit the virus to other people. Approximately, globally one million people die each year from causes related to viral hepatitis, most commonly cirrhosis and liver cancer.

FJDC’s students, faculty and doctors have also organised awareness campaign for the general public, posters, banners, and flyers were being used for the awareness; a number of lectures for the general public have also been scheduled. 

During this month every patient visiting the dental and medical hospital, located in Azam Town, is receiving check-up and advice under direct supervision of the specialist doctors. Those identified to have hepatitis, are being treated free of cost, necessary lab investigations are being provided on cost to cost basis. The above activities were publicized well in advance on local cable channels.

The young doctors present at the free camps informed that medical professional and paramedics are the ones at the highest risk, as 1 in every 10 people are caring the virus. However, they were satisfied with the level of cross infection control and sterilization standards followed at the hospital. They had also received relevant vaccinations recently.

They demanded concrete steps to be taken by the health ministry and urged all stakeholders; health professionals and civil society, to speak up and combine all efforts to confront the issue.