WITH 10 million Hepatitis B and C patients and working youths being at higher risk of hepatitis infection, there are reasons to treat this life-threatening disease as a major threat to public health. A survey report, prepared by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh and University of Florida College of Medicine, shows that Hepatitis B and C, out of the five types of the viral diseases, which cause liver cancer and cirrhosis, pose a serious public health challenge for the world. The survey, as New Age reported on Friday, also shows that 8.5 million people are infected with Hepatitis B virus and 1.5 million others with Hepatitis C virus in Bangladesh. Urban people are found to have a higher prevalence of Hepatitis B of 5.4 per cent compared with 3.8 per cent among their rural counterparts. What is alarming is that Hepatitis B and C are chronic infections with the symptoms remaining dormant for as long as decades and at least 60 per cent of liver cancer occurs because of delay in the testing and treatment of viral Hepatitis B and C.
Regrettably, however, the government is anything but serious about successfully fighting this menace as there have been inadequate arrangement for Hepatitis B and C treatment. Treatment facilities for the diseases are available only in Dhaka but these are costly and inaccessible even by people from middle-income groups. It would not, therefore, be an exaggeration to say that Hepatitis B and C patients from low-income groups are left in the lurch because of the exorbitant costs of the treatment. Liver disease experts say that Hepatitis B patients each are required to spend at least Tk 80 a day as long as they live and for Hepatitis C patients, the cost of treatment for 12 weeks could vary between Tk 60,000 and Tk 90,000. The treatment of Hepatitis B and C could be possible in Bangladesh but the problem lies with the fact that the latest drugs are not available. It is now imperative for the government to include the drugs for hepatitis treatments in the list of lifesaving medicines to ensure their availability at low cost. This needs to be done on a priority basis.
As an early detection of Hepatitis B and C can save lives of patients, they need to be aware of this disease and have hepatitis screening almost every year. To facilitate this, the government needs to have in place hepatitis screening facilities in all upazila hospitals and children also need to be immunised with Hepatitis B vaccine free. This would help us all to prevent its outbreak. In any case, the government also needs to hold awareness programmes alongside introducing health insurance to bear the treatment cost of Hepatitis B and C.
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