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Representational image. Recently, the government rolled out a national viral hepatitis control programme, with a budget of Rs 600 crore for the next three years. Photo: AFP
Representational image. Recently, the government rolled out a national viral hepatitis control programme, with a budget of Rs 600 crore for the next three years. Photo: AFP

Over 3-9 million Indians infected with Hepatitis, says health ministry

The data was analysed for quality and to assess the prevalence of overall Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections by age, gender, risk factors and regions

New Delhi: India has 3-9 million people with active Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections, according to data released this month by the ministry of health and family welfare.

Under the mandate of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), the Lucknow-based Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences undertook a systematic review of available information from published studies and from large unpublished reliable data sets to assess the prevalence of chronic HCV infection among Indians.

The data was analysed for quality and to assess the prevalence of overall HCV infections by age, gender, risk factors and regions. This meta-analysis data estimated that India, with its current population of 1.3 billion, has 5.2-13 million anti-HCV positive people, which means, people who were infected with the hepatitis C virus at some point in the past.

Recently, the government rolled out a national viral hepatitis control programme, with a budget of 600 crore for the next three years. The ministry has already released the Integrated Initiative for Prevention and Control of Viral Hepatitis Operational Guidelines.

“Viral hepatitis is increasingly being recognized as a public health problem in India. Anti-Hepatitis C virus antibody prevalence in the general population is estimated to be between 0.09% and 15%. Chronic HCV infection accounts for 12-32% of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and 12-20% of cirrhosis," said a senior health ministry official.

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. This can be found in the blood and to a much lesser extent, in the saliva and semen, or vaginal fluid, of an infected person. It is particularly concentrated in the blood, so it is usually transmitted through blood-to-blood contact.

Doctors say Hepatitis C does not often cause noticeable symptoms, or the symptoms are often mistaken for flu. Many people fight off the infection and are free of the virus, but in others the virus might stay in their bodies for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C can be treated by taking antiviral medications, although there can be some unpleasant side effects. There is currently no vaccination for hepatitis C.

Considering the burden of the disease in India, the government will focus on the management of viral hepatitis, including diagnosis and treatment, under the National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme.

“The programme will include provision of linkages for diagnosis and treatment of various types of hepatitis, including involvement of the private sector. Engagement with community and peer support to enhance and ensure adherence to treatment and demand generation will be done. Screening of pregnant women for the virus is to be done in areas where institutional deliveries are less than 90% to ensure their referral for institutional delivery. This will allow for administration of birth-dose Hep B vaccination," the official added.

“We aim to establish at least 100 treatment sites in the public sector that can offer access to quality assured management of viral Hepatitis with focus on treatment of Hepatitis C over three years, and to treat a minimum of 300,000 patients over the next three years," he said.

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