New Delhi: Ten years after the Hepatitis B vaccine was introduced in the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), the Union health ministry plans to assess the impact of the immunization on the population.

Viral hepatitis, despite government efforts, continues to be a serious public health problem in India.

More than 52 million people in the country are currently infected with chronic hepatitis, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Under the health ministry’s plan, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) aims to identify the barriers leading to low Hepatitis B coverage under UIP and study the impact of the immunization done over the years.

“In India, the estimated burden of hepatitis is very high, necessitating focus on prevention and control measures of hepatitis to mitigate the morbidity and mortality due to the disease. There is however, a paucity of nationally representative data to establish accurate disease burden," said Soumya Swaminathan, director general, ICMR.

“New infections caused by the five known hepatitis viruses—A, B, C, D and E (HAV, HBV, HCV, HDV and HEV)—can be prevented. In addition, testing and treatment can improve the health of persons with chronic infections. The sequel to chronic hepatitis includes cirrhosis and hepato-cellular carcinoma that pose long-term burden on the health system," she said.

The health ministry is developing a comprehensive integrated three-year National Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis (NAPVH) with the key objective of providing an actionable framework of evidence based, priority interventions to support the national response for prevention, control and management of viral hepatitis in the country.

Under the plan, studies will be conducted to understand the efficacy of alternative medicine in preventing and treating viral hepatitis, comparison of indigenous and Chinese hepatitis vaccines in clinical trials and understand the modes of transmission of viral hepatitis B.

“In view of the existing gaps in current programmes, it is pertinent to address all aspects under the Integrated National Programme on Prevention and Control Programme of Viral Hepatitis, of which research and innovation is one important component," said Swaminathan.

“We want to enhance knowledge and skills required for evidence based on various aspects of the epidemic, up-scaled operational research, multi-disciplinary themes, improved research quality, better research capabilities and expanded partnerships for tracking the epidemic and assessing impact," she said.

India is committed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations. The broad goals are interrelated though each has its own targets to achieve. SDG 3.1 aims to achieve the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030. India is also a signatory to this World Health Assembly resolution and the country’s vision is to move towards elimination of Viral Hepatitis by 2030.

The government introduced Hepatitis B vaccines in the UIP in 2007-2008. Nearly 119,000 cases of all cause viral hepatitis were reported in India in 2012. The Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme of the National Centre for Disease Control received notification of over 290,000 cases of acute viral hepatitis in 2013.