'However, those who are carrying the disease are always at risk of liver cirrhosis or cancer'
Around 20,000 people die in the country each year from the deadly viral liver infections known as Hepatisis B and C. However, only 10% of the people carrying strains of the virus are aware that they have it, according to experts citing World Health Organization statistics.
The comments were made at a discussion organised at the National Press Club on Saturday, on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day on Sunday.
A different virus is responsible for each type of virally transmitted hepatitis, which include hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. While Hepatitis A is always an acute, short-term disease, hepatitis B, C, and D are most likely to become ongoing and chronic. Hepatitis E is usually acute but can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women.
Hepatologists said Hepatitis B and C are most common Bangladesh, among the more dangerous variants.
Addressing the event, keynote speaker Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Department of Liver Chairman Dr Mamum Al Mahtab Swapnil, also chairman of the Forum for the Study of the Liver Bangladesh, said: “There are 50-60 million people infected with Hepatitis B in Bangladesh. Among them, 8-10 million are affected by chronic Hepatitis B, while 10 million are affected by Hepatitis C.”
He added that the disease can often lay dormant in carriers, causing many to be unaware that they have it. “However, those who are carrying the disease are always at risk of liver cirrhosis or cancer.”
Around 10% of adults and 90% of children who have Hepatitis B develop chronic infections, while the same is true for 90% of Hepatitis C patients, Dr Mamum said.
Most cases of Hepatitis B and C are caught when carriers submit blood tests to travel abroad or when they apply to donate blood, the BSMMU Liver Department chairman added.
Referring to a WHO report published on Friday, Dr Mamun further said Bangladesh is among four countries in the Southeast Asia region who have managed vaccinate almost all children aged 1-5 against Hepatitis by 2019, one year earlier than as targeted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“This is the first milestone in preventing the prevalence of Hepatitis in Bangladesh. We need continued and planned initiatives to ensure that these viruses can be eradicated from the planet,” he said.
Dr Prodip Bhowmik, president of the Hepatitis Foundation of Tripura, said: “We need to speed up efforts to combat hepatitis, as we will soon need to begin the fight against alcoholic and fatty liver disease.”
Mentioning that the prevalence and types of hepatitis are similar in Bangladesh and Tripura, he suggested joint initiatives to eliminate hepatitis in a more effective manner.
“Among members of the Chakma indigenous minority in Tripura, 12% are infected with Hepatitis B. This may be higher in the Chakma communities of Bangladesh. Our experience in dealing with the virus can be very helpful for Bangladesh,” he said.
According to a statement issued by Health Minister Zahid Malik on the occasion of World Hepatitis day, a total 4,000 doctors were trained in the treatment and prevention of hepatitis under the fourth five year National Plan of Action (NPA).
Furthermore, over a hundred Hepatitis C patients were given free medicine, amounting to Tk1 lakh each, under the NPA. Pilot projects for adult vaccination were also conducted.
Dr Mamum Al Mahtab Swapnil said research has shown that the treatment cost for the 10% of Hepatitis B carriers who are aware would amount to Tk6,000 crore per year.
He further said that a new Hepatitis B medicine, developed by himself and Dr Sheikh Fazlul Akbar, has already reached markets in Latin America, Cuba, and Africa, and is in the process of being introduced in Bangladesh this year.
“Hopefully, the medicine [Nasvac] will be available in the country later this year. It is being produced by Beacon Pharmaceuticals,” he added.
Beacon Pharmaceuticals Managing Director Ebadul Karim Bulbul, MP, said they have been unable to launch the medicine so far due to lack of adequate technology. “Once the technology is brought to Bangladesh, we will begin production.”
According to a new study published by WHO on Friday, investing $6 billion per year in eliminating hepatitis in 67 low and middle income countries would avert 4.5 million premature deaths by 2030.
President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and Minister of Social Welfare Nuruzzaman Ahmed issued separate statement to mark World Hepatitis Day, urging the people to take blood tests to ensure that they are not Hepatitis carriers.