In line with Modi Government’s deep commitment towards elimination of viral hepatitis, the “National Action Plan – Viral Hepatitis” was launched by Union Minister of State, Health & Family Welfare, Ashwini Kumar Choubey in Mumbai today.
Minister for PWD and Public Health & Family Welfare, Government of Maharashtra, Eknath S. Shinde; and Guest of Honour and Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis, WHO SEARO region, Amitabh Bachchan were also present on the occasion.
Viral hepatitis is recognized as an important public health problem across the world. According to WHO estimates, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths globally in 2015. It is a number comparable to deaths due to tuberculosis, worldwide.
In India, it is estimated that there are 4 crore people suffering from Hepatitis B and 0.6-1.2 crore people suffering from Hepatitis C.
The National Action Plan was developed by experts from across the country, in line with India’s commitment and keeping the global perspective in mind. The Plan provides a strategic framework, based on which National Viral Hepatitis Control Program was framed and launched in July, 2018 under National Health Mission by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
This program is also in line with the global commitment towards achieving Sustainable development Goal (SDG) 3.3. India has affirmed this commitment at the 69th World Health Assembly.
India is one of the few countries in the world to roll out management of Hepatitis B and hepatitis C in a public health approach and offer free diagnostics and drugs lifelong to its beneficiaries.
The aim of the program is to combat hepatitis and achieve countrywide elimination of Hepatitis C by 2030. Also achieve significant reduction in the infected population, morbidity and mortality associated with Hepatitis B and C viz. Cirrhosis and Hepato-cellular carcinoma (liver cancer) and Hepatitis A and E.
Integrating the interventions within the existing health systems framework under National Health Mission are further complementing the efforts of increasing access to testing and management of viral hepatitis.
The Minister also released the Technical Guidelines for Diagnosis and Management of Hepatitis B. Many countries have achieved outstanding coverage with the hepatitis B vaccine, scoring an early win for prevention.
In India, Hepatitis B vaccine was introduced in the Universal Immunization Program almost a decade ago. Since healthcare workers and high-risk groups by virtue of their occupation and behavior are more vulnerable to acquiring infection, they have been extended as the beneficiaries for this vaccine under the NVHCP.
Focus under the program is also on screening of pregnant women for hepatitis B. Especially in places where institutional delivery is less than 80%, to ensure provision of birth dose hepatitis B vaccination and Hepatitis B immunoglobulin, if required.
Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis, WHO SEARO region, Shri Amitabh Bachchan addressing the occasion said: “I am here today because I am a Hepatitis B victim. While shooting for the film Coolie, I got injured and required a lot of blood; the blood given by 200 donors saved my life, but one of the donors was carrying the Hepatitis B virus. The detection process for that virus was not in order at that time, and that went into my system. This was discovered only in 2005, when I came to know that 75% of my liver had been destroyed.”
He continued “I am a living example of a Hepatitis B victim. I want to know the impact of the campaigns; we had done a similar campaign against polio, and now India is now polio-free. I am a TB survivor too. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone since TB is normally regarded as a disease contracted by those living in disadvantaged backgrounds; however, if its treatment is done timely, it can be cured. We must pay a lot of attention to the process of detection of these diseases; because if it is detected in time, it can be cured.”
He further said “I got very interested when I came to know about the program by Government of India. The need for dissemination of information about Hepatitis B is one thing which attracted me to the program. Secondly, the factor of discrimination, particularly against women, made me sign in to this program. I had heard many painful stories where women suffering from Hepatitis are evicted from the family. Women are half the power of our country. To be discriminated against just because they are carrying a Hepatitis B virus is not acceptable. I will fight for this as long as I am alive.”
I am a living example of a #HepatitisB victim; need to pay a lot of attention to detection, treatment and public awareness: @WHOSEARO Goodwill Ambassador #AmitabhBachchan @SrBachchan #EliminateHepatitis https://t.co/RZPcgqXFGH pic.twitter.com/Z0y7WhoLVv
— PIB in Maharashtra (@PIBMumbai) February 24, 2019