`96,000 die every year due to Hepatitis in India`

New Delhi: Nearly 96,000 people die annually in India due to Hepatitis, which has become a hidden epidemic and a silent killer, according to health activists.

Legal experts, doctors and activists brought together by NGO `Doctors Without Borders` today expressed concern over the growing rate of Hepatitis C in the country at a function held here to mark the World Hepatitis Day.

Citing a WHO report, the health activists said nearly four lakh Indians have been tested positive for Hepatitis C, leading to 96,000 annual deaths due to the viral infection.
The report said the prevalence of Hepatitis C is estimated to be within 1.8-2.5 per cent, while among drug users it is 50-90 per cent.

"Most Hepatitis C infections are among people who inject drugs. Thus, HCV infectiousness is ten times more contagious than HIV," said Leena Menghaney, a member of the NGO.

The activists also accused the government of failing to formulate a policy to contain the disease.

"The failure of the Health Ministry to initiate steps to prevent the viral infection and proper treatment facilities is one of the reasons for spreading of the disease in India. It is time that we hold the government accountable for protecting public health," said Anand Grover, lawyer-activist and Special Rapporteur in UNHRC.

A WHO report titled `Global policy report on prevention and control of viral Hepatitis` highlights non-collaboration of the government with civil society groups to develop and implement viral hepatitis prevention and control programme.

The activists said most often patients diagnosed with Hepatitis C lack access to affordable and appropriate treatment and medical care.

"One vial of interferon alfa by a private drug company costs Rs 23,100. Multiply the figure with 48 weeks and that`s how much initial treatment would cost," said Loon Gangte of Delhi Network of Positive People, a group working for the welfare for people suffering from HIV+.

He is of the view that talking more about Hepatitis C and creating an awareness campaign like HIV-AIDS will get things moving.

"Training health care providers, establishing national treatment guidelines, introducing medication...Are some of the steps the Health Ministry must take, until a comprehensive national programme for prevention, control and treatment of viral hepatitis is launched," an activist said.