Almost 16 months after the national programme to combat viral hepatitis was announced by the union health ministry, just one centre in the state has managed to enrol patients and provide medicines. The centre at the civic-run Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General (Sion) Hospital is the only one to have administered free medicines to 25 patients of hepatitis C yet. India plans to eliminate the viral disease by 2030.
An estimated 40 million have hepatitis B and another 6-12 million have hepatitis C in India, which is believed to harbour 10-15% of the global burden. Those infected with hepatitis B or C make up for a significant chunk of patients, who go on to develop liver cancer and failure. While hepatitis C can be cured with therapy of 12-24 weeks, hepatitis B patients have to be on lifelong medication.
Eight centres, including institutes in Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Yavatmal, were to roll out the drugs. A state official said that while the stock of medicines had arrived, the diagnostic facilities were yet to be streamlined in all centres. “As of now, Mumbai has started dispensing the drugs, but centres in Pune and Nagpur will start very soon,” said the officer. He added that the national programme is giving medicines for hepatitis C at present and a decision on rollout of hepatitis B medicines is likely to be taken by December. Based on tests ranging from liver function test, fibroscan and viral load, the doctors decide on who would be started on the medicines.
At Sion hospital, doctors said another 15 patients are in the pipeline to get the hepatitis C medicines. Barring the viral load testing facility, the centre has put nearly all diagnostic facilities in place. “We are expecting the viral load testing machine to come by next week,” said Dr Akash Shukla, head of gastroenterology, Sion hospital. “In all, we have got 40 patients,” he said, adding that the centre plans to enrol up to 6,000 patients over time. “We are recruiting a medical officer, a data entry operator and a lab technician for the programme.”
Actor Amitabh Bachchan, who has been living with hepatitis B for over two decades, emphasised on diagnosis while unveiling the campaign. Speaking to TOI, an NGO said female sex workers and transgenders remain one of the most vulnerable population. “The government must devise a way for them to get tested without facing any discrimination in the health facilities,” said the NGO head. Eldred Tellis, who runs a programme for intravenous drug users, said that he has around 80 individuals who would quality for treatment.-Times Of India