40 m Indians carry Hepatitis-B virus

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Wed May 3 07:01:07 MDT 2000

Thursday 27 April 2000

40 m Indians carry Hepatitis-B virus
NEW DELHI: India is sitting on a Hepatitis time bomb that is silently
ticking away, experts warned Wednesday, saying a lack of awareness was
hindering efforts to combat the virus.
With an estimated 40 million Indians carrying the Hepatitis-B virus which is
200 times more infectious than AIDS and another 20 million hosting the even
more deadly Hepatitis C version, the warning is no exaggeration.
The Children's Liver Disease Awareness and Support Programme, a private
foundation that functions in collaboration with its British counterpart,
launched a programme here to spread awareness about the virus.
For a bit of glamour, it drafted in national cricket coach Kapil Dev and
all-rounder Ajay Jadeja, who was also associated with the programme last
year. "The purpose of this campaign is to create awareness about the serious
threat viral Hepatitis poses to our health. It is hoped that the campiagn
will help in prevention of the spread of these viruses through simple
strategies like proper hygiene, vaccination and the screening of blood,"
said Anupam Sibal, consultant pediatric hepatologist and director of CLASP.
"This campaign will focus on creating awareness amongst the general masses,
starting with high school students, throught leactures, slide shows and
booklets," Sibal said.
Hepatitis B is a silent killer and carriers of the virus are at risk of
developing fatal cirrhosis and liver cancer. What is worse, Sibal said, is
that in India about 400,000 children suffer from serious liver diseases and
every year 15,000 babies are born with life threatening liver ailments and
2,000 children die for want of a liver transplant.
Every year 270,000 babies are infected with the Hepatitis B virus from their
mothers and of these 90 per cent become chronic carriers and suffer in their
most productive years. The treatment, which is extremely expensive, is also
very painful and effective only in 60 per cent of the cases.
Yet India does not have a national policy for vaccination of all babies.
"What is most appaling is the lack of awarness among the people about the
disease. A mother who realises her infant is unwell within two weeks of
birth, gets the child to the doctor when it is four months old and in need
of a transplant," said Sibal.
Way back in 1993 the World Health Organisation had said that by 1997 all
countries should include Hepatitis in their universal immunisation
programme. "Way into the year 2000, there is no sign of the government
taking the problem seriously," Sibal said. An estimated Rs. 1.9 billion will
be needed to vaccinate every child. "Money will never be available, it will
have to be created," he said, adding that for the cost of one child's
treatment, 3,750 babies can be vaccinated.
A booklet on Hepatitis which details ways of detecting liver disease in
infants was released at the launch of the campaign.
Jadeja said, "It has become a social thing to be associated with AIDS,
nobody lends their name to causes of children and the poor." He said
Hepatitis poses an even more clear and present danger to the country than
Kapil Dev urged the media to "help CLASP in spreading its message as most
people do not know the problem."
"The Health Ministry does not have the funds to spread awareness. We will
have to put our hands and heads together and look after the next generation
since somebody looked afer us," he said. (India Abroad News Service)
 For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service
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© Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. 2000.

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