Millions of hepatitis C cases set alarm bells ringing in Pakistan

M. Waqar Bhatti
Blood sample for hepatitis C virus testing — AFP/File
Blood sample for hepatitis C virus testing — AFP/File

  • About 10m people are infected with Hepatitis C in Pakistan: Dr Razavi. 
  • “Pakistan is now home to world’s largest population of patients living with Hepatitis C," he says. 
  • Experts ay over 15 million people suffer from Hepatitis B and C in Pakistan.

KARACHI: Pakistan has become home to the highest number of people being affected by the Hepatitis C virus with about half a million people contracting the virus since 2015, The News reported Friday. 

Epidemiologist Dr Homie Razavi from the Centre for Disease Analysis (CDA) in the United States claimed about 10 million people are infected with the Hepatitis C virus in Pakistan, making it the highest number in the world. 

“Pakistan is now home to the world’s largest population of patients living with Hepatitis C, surpassing even China, India and Nigeria. We have been working for the last two years with various provincial health departments in Pakistan and following detailed research and analysis, we found that around half a million new Hepatitis C infections are emerging in Pakistan from 2015 to 2021. The total number of Hepatitis C patients is estimated to be 10 million in Pakistan, the highest in the world,” Dr Razavi told a news briefing in Karachi. 

US and Pakistani experts said over 15 million people suffer from Hepatitis B and C in Pakistan, making hepatitis the biggest killer among communicable diseases. They added that both viral infections are blood-borne diseases spread through unsafe injections, and unsanitary practices at hospitals, dental clinics and tattoo parlours, among other causes.

Experts also urged the vaccination of women of childbearing age for Hepatitis E. Unprecedented floods have exacerbated the spread of Hepatitis E, exposing over 75,000 expecting mothers to the risk of this potentially fatal virus.

Dr Razavi was accompanied by a renowned gastroenterologist and hepatologist Dr Zaigham Abbas, Senior Director of Medical Affairs at Gilead Sciences Aysan Murtazoglu, Dr Zulfiqar Dharego from Sindh Hepatitis Control Program and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ferozsons Laboratories Limited Usman Khalid Waheed. 

"The good news is that Hepatitis C is a treatable infection and treatment of Hepatitis C is cheapest in Pakistan as compared to the rest of the world. Any person who is infected with Hepatitis C can get rid of this virus within three months by regularly taking medicines”, the US expert said.

Dr Razavi said Pakistan can learn from Egypt which was number four in the burden of Hepatitis C cases in 2015 but now it is number 17, adding that it launched a national programme to screen its entire population and treated all those who were infected with the infection.

Dr Amna Subhan from Aga Khan University Hospital said “excessive use of injections through used syringes, unsafe blood transfusions and sharing of razors and poor infection prevention and control are some of the modes of Hepatitis B and C transmission. Mother-to-child transmission and lack of Hepatitis B vaccination are also one of the causes of its spread."

Professor Saeed Hamid, a leading gastroenterologist associated with AKUH said the Pakistan Society For The Study Of Liver Diseases (PSSLD) has offered a $250-350 million dollar programme to eliminate the seven million Hepatitis C infections and has been put up for government approval. Meanwhile, infections are soaring every minute and one precious life is lost to the dreaded disease in every 20 mins.

Waheed said every year number of new cases of Hepatitis C is constantly on the rise, and it can be checked by focusing away from needless expenditures.