BR News Desk
Srinagar, July 27, 2023 – Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, poses a significant health challenge in Kashmir, with viral infections being the most common cause. Globally, 3,000 people die from hepatitis every day and what makes this tragedy even more heartbreaking is that each and every one of these deaths is preventable with effective prevention, testing, and treatment services, said a highly experienced expert, underscoring the menace of hepatitis based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) alarming data. Near home, here in Kashmir, due to a variety of reasons including unsafe drinking water, hepatitis has become a cause of major concern.
A study, conducted in South Kashmir, had revealed that out of 5,533 subjects screened for HBsAg, 2.4% tested positive for Hepatitis B. The prevalence was found to be 2.21% in males and 2.62% in females, highlighting the urgency of addressing this public health issue. This study only highlights the incidence of one variant which is Hepatitis B. With other variants such as A, C, E, the combined reported and unreported prevalence of Hepatitis could be much higher.
According to the WHO, over one million hepatitis-related deaths occur annually, with over 8,000 new infections daily. If left unchecked, viral hepatitis could surpass malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS combined in annual mortality by 2040.
Dr. Sanjay Goja, Program Director & Clinical Lead for Liver Transplant, HBS Surgery & Robotic Liver Surgery at NH Group, said, “We’ve only got one life, and we’ve only got one liver. Hepatitis can devastate both. The liver silently performs over 500 vital functions every single day to keep us alive. That’s why prioritizing liver health – and knowing our hepatitis status – is so important.”
Under the theme, “One Life, One Liver,” this year’s World Hepatitis Day aims to underscore the importance of liver health for a healthy life. The campaign also seeks to promote increased efforts in viral hepatitis prevention, testing, and treatment to optimize liver health, prevent liver disease, and achieve the 2030 hepatitis elimination goals.
According to Dr. Goja, regular testing and seeking treatment if diagnosed with hepatitis are essential for preventing liver damage and the progression of the disease. “We have the means to combat hepatitis and save countless lives. Limiting alcohol consumption or avoiding it altogether can significantly reduce the risk of liver damage. Obesity is yet another risk factor for liver disease, so maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and balanced nutrition is crucial,” he recommended.
A potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), can lead to chronic infection and increase the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. A highly effective vaccine is available, providing 98% to 100% protection against the virus. Preventing HBV infection is vital to avoid complications and ensure a healthy life.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver, leading to liver cirrhosis, cancer, and the need for liver transplants. It is transmitted through contact with infected blood and body fluids. Early detection through blood tests and the availability of highly effective oral medicines can cure over 95% of those infected. No effective vaccine currently exists for HCV, making avoidance of virus contact the primary prevention method.
Dr Goja warned that Hepatitis infections can often remain silent for years, showing symptoms only in the advanced stages of the disease. “Hepatitis B and C are particularly concerning, causing nearly 8,000 new infections daily, with many remaining undetected,” he added.
In severe cases of liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, a liver transplant becomes a viable option. Dr. Sanjay Goja stated, “Liver transplant can be performed by taking part of the liver from a healthy living donor, ideally from the family. In cases where the cadaveric liver transplant is more suitable, Narayana Health offers facilities for all types of liver transplants, including living donor liver transplants, cadaveric liver transplants, and ABO incompatible transplants.”
The expert emphasized that preventing hepatitis is crucial, and WHO recommends all infants receive the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible after birth, followed by 2 or 3 doses to complete the vaccination series. For hepatitis C, the WHO recommends testing all adults at least once and provides highly effective oral medicines for treatment, curing over 95% of cases. Raising awareness about hepatitis prevention and treatment is key to eliminating the disease.
On World Hepatitis Day, the expert called for all Kashmiris to unite for combating hepatitis in their region. “By prioritizing liver health, promoting prevention, early diagnosis, and timely treatment, we can ensure a healthier future for all. Together, we can make “One Life, One Liver” a reality,” concluded Dr Goja.