KARACHI - As many as 111 people are dying daily due to complications of hepatitis B and C in Pakistan, which are largely preventable and completely treatable diseases but unfortunately, majority of people in the country are unaware that they are infected with these lethal viruses which are extremely silent killers, leading gastroenterologists and herpetologists said on Friday.

They said viral hepatitis could become ‘2nd polio for Pakistan’ as entire world was planning for its elimination by 2030 but in Pakistan, majority of people didn’t even know that they were infected with hepatitis B and C, and adding feared that harsh travel restrictions could be imposed on Pakistanis if viral hepatitis was not controlled in Pakistan by 2030.

“Over 40,000 people die every year in Pakistan due to complications of the hepatitis B and C including liver cancer, which means that 111 persons are losing their lives daily due to these preventable and curable viral diseases in our country,” eminent gastroenterologist and hepatologist Prof Saeed Hamid told a news conference in connection with World Hepatitis Day 2018 here at a local hotel on Friday.

The press conference and a public awareness seminar had been organised by the Pakistan Society for the Study of Liver Diseases (PSSLD) to mark the World Hepatitis Day 2018, which was addressed by leading gastroenterologists and hepatologists including Prof Wasim Jaffri, Prof Zaigham Abbass, Prof Saleh Muhammad Channa, Prof Lubna Kamani, Dr Abdul Qayyum Memon, Dr Bashir Ahmed Shaikh and others.

Prof Saeed Hamid, who is the former president of the PSSLD, claimed that Hepatitis B and C were killing more people than combined deaths by Tuberculosis (TB), dengue fever, Malaria and HIV/AIDS in Pakistan, saying fortunately, majority of deaths due to Hepatitis B and C were preventable and 100 percent curable.

“Hepatitis C spreads through infected blood and if we make people aware about its transmission, this disease can be prevented. Infected blood transfusion is another cause of its transmission so if screened blood is transfused, Hepatitis B and C infections can also be prevented”, Prof. Saeed Hamid said and added that Hepatitis B could also be prevented through vaccination, which was now part of the country’s immunization program.

Eminent gastroenterologist further informed that Hepatitis B and C were 100 percent curable and treatable diseases now due to emergence of very effective drugs, saying medicines for the treatment of Hepatitis B and C were available on quite affordable prices in Pakistan, while most of these drugs were also of international standards.

“World’s target is elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030 like polio from the entire world and there is no reason that it cannot be eliminated. In Pakistan, the challenge is finding the missing million as majority of our infected people are unaware that they are infected with Hepatitis B or C viruses”, he added.

Speaking on the occasion, Prof Zaigham Abbass from Ziauddin Hospital Karachi said 4.5 to five million people in Pakistan were infected with hepatitis B alone, but added that hepatitis B infection rate was very high in some districts of Balochistan where in 9-10 districts, over 10 percent people were infected with Hepatitis B virus while in 15 districts of Sindh and Punjab, over 5 percent people were infected with this viral hepatitis.

“The only option available to combat this menace is vaccination against Hepatitis B and fortunately, this infection is not only preventable through vaccination but can also be treated with the availability of modern medicines”, he added.

On the occasion, Prof Zaigham Abbass urged the authorities to start giving first dose of hepatitis B vaccination on the first day of child’s birth, saying chances of children infected with Hepatitis B become very minimal.