LAHORE – Like other parts of the globe, the World  will be observed across the country, including the City, on Saturday (today) to raise awareness about the menace and the measures to prevent it. Coordinated by the  since 2007, the World Hepatitis Day was officially recognised by the  (WHO) in May 2010.

Seminars, walks and medical camps will be arranged in major cities, including Lahore, both at the government and the private level to mark the event. In Lahore, Sheikh Zayed Hospital will arrange hepatitis awareness walk, screening and awareness camp, and hepatitis awareness seminar.

In Pakistan, the prevalence of Hepatitis B stands at 2.4 per cent, while that of Hepatitis C at 4.9 per cent. Currently, there are 12 million people infected with the disease in the country. The main reasons for the spread of hepatitis are frequent use of therapeutic injections, re-use of syringes, inappropriate sterilisation practices and weak hospital waste management.

The Pakistan Medical and Research Council conducted a national population survey in 2007 to find out the actual prevalence of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Of the 47,043 people screened, 2.4% were infected with Hepatitis B and 4.9% with Hepatitis C, making an aggregate of 7.3%, thus showing hepatitis exposure in about 12 million people.

The prevalence of Hepatitis B was estimated at 2.5%, 2.4%, 1.3% and 4.3% in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, respectively; while that of Hepatitis C at 5%, 6.7%, 1.1% and 1.5% in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, respectively.

The prevalence of these viral markers varied greatly across the districts of each of these provinces, with some of them showing high Hepatitis B figures while others showing high Hepatitis C figures. A total of 30 districts across the country showed very high prevalence of Hepatitis B and C.

In particular, the frequent use of therapeutic injections – with about 30% of the population taking more than 10 injections per person per year – and reuse of syringes showed strong association with Hepatitis C.

The high number of injections for common ailments – with 30% of the population taking between five and more than 10 injections per person per year – was identified as the commonest source of the spread of hepatitis apart from the reuse of syringes. Improper sterilisation of medical devices and unsafe blood transfusion also stood out as the most common sources of the spread of hepatitis.

To control the spread of hepatitis, the government launched the National Programme for Hepatitis Control in 2005. The major components of the programme included Hepatitis B vaccination to high-risk groups (health care providers, prison inmates, patients with chronic renal failure, hemophiliacs, thallasemics, patients with Hepatitis C and relatives of high-risk groups), safety of blood and blood products, safe injections, invasive medical devices and solid hospital waste management, prevention and control of viral Hepatitis A and E, behaviour change communications though the media and interpersonal communications, capacity building for prevention and control of viral hepatitis, surveillance, diagnostic laboratory services and epidemic response, operational research including monitoring and evaluation, and counselling and treatment interventions at teaching and DHQ hospitals.

The WHO is working in Pakistan with the National Hepatitis Control Programme to strengthen Hepatitis B vaccination in children. Under the EPI programme, safe environment and waste management is working for the provision of safe and clean drinking water to the population for reducing the transmission of Hepatitis A and E; and ensuring safe blood transfusion system in the country to reduce transmission of all blood-borne diseases, including viral hepatitis.

The WHO is also working with provincial blood transfusion programmes to strengthen the blood screening system. Recently, it mobilised resources from the USAID for procurement of blood screening kits worth $7.8 million.