- ISLAMABAD -- Over 15 million
people in Pakistan have been infected with the deadly hepatitis B virus
and the lack of adequate measures may increase the figure two fold in the
next five years, warned National Institute of Health (NIH) and Health Ministry
sources. Hepatitis-B is a deadly liver disease with the same mode of transmission
- They said NIH had been facing problems in rural areas
where parents were not very cooperative when it came to immunising their
children. Sources said several national-level surveys indicated the growing
prevalence of the disease.
- The national programme manager of anti-hepatitis immunisation
programme, Dr Rehman Hafiz, admitted there was a lack of cooperation from
the public. However, he downplayed the 15 million figure. "I don't
have the exact figure right now, but I can claim that the prevalence rate
of hepatitis B is not more than 5.8 percent among the population in Pakistan,"
Dr Hafiz said. "There may be around 8 million patients infected with
hepatitis B in the country." He said some private organisations were
exaggerating the figure by claiming that the rate is 25 to 30 percent in
- Up to 350 million people are carriers of the hepatitis
B virus worldwide. Medical experts believe the hepatitis B virus is spreading
fast because of ignorance among patients and the lack of proper preventive
measures. The hepatitis has five types: A, B, C, D and E. The A and E types
are caused through oral infection, contaminated water and unhygienic food
while B, C and D are spread through un-sterilised syringes, sexual intercourse,
blood transfusion and from a mother to a new born baby.
- Dr Hafiz believes the hepatitis problem could continue
for the next 10 to 15 years and the sizeable reduction of the hepatitis
prevalence rate will only be possible with proper prevention, immunisation
and public awareness.
- Because of a shortage of funds, the government has planned
to target the young population. It began the first phase of the programme
last year by vaccinating children under the age of one.
- "In the absence of a proper immunisation programme,
a generation has grown up without anti-hepatitis vaccinations," he
- The national programme was launched with the financial
backing of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), which
is financially supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "The
aim is to immunise every newly born child," Dr Hafiz said.
- By the end of 2005, Pakistan will get 81.1 million doses
from GAVI, immunising more than 21 million children. Three doses per child
are administered at the age of six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks, along
with the three polio vaccinations. Medical exporters say the symptoms of
hepatitis B can include abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, the lack of appetite,
nausea, jaundice and dark urine. There is no cure for hepatitis B although
bed rest and dietary changes can alleviate some of the symptoms. Blood,
semen, saliva and vaginal secretions transmit the disease. It is claimed
that the hepatitis B virus is 100 times more concentrated in the blood
than the HIV virus, making it much easier to spread.
- Hepatitis C virus - often called the 'silent epidemic'
- can live in the body for decades, often with no symptoms, while attacking
the liver. Long-term consequences of hepatitis C can include liver disease,
liver cancer, and death. There is also no cure for hepatitis C and no vaccine.