Hepatitis affects around 12 million people in Pakistan.
Within the Eastern Mediterranean region, which we are a part of, Pakistan shares 80% of the disease burden with Egypt, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The disease, though widespread and often deadly, is both preventable and curable. The great tragedy of our population is the lack of awareness of safe practices that can protect them from the hepatitis virus.
According to the WHO, the risk factors for hepatitis B and C – the most fatal types — are “therapeutic injections, syringe reuse, surgery, improper sterilization of invasive medical devices, blood transfusion, hospitalisation and sharing of razors while getting a shave from barbers.”
The measures you can take
Taking precautionary measures can greatly reduce your risk of contracting the disease. In Pakistan, most cases of hepatitis B and C are attributed to syringe reuse and inadequate sterilisation of medical instruments, says the Pakistan Health Research Council, the focal body for hepatitis.
The next time you visit a hospital for a medical, surgical or dental procedure, make sure to ask whether the equipment has been sterilised before use. If you’re getting an injection, never buy syringes that aren’t packed properly.
Though it is the responsibility of a healthcare professional to ensure proper sterilisation and safety measures, enough lives have been lost to medical negligence — as evident by the recent HIV epidemic in Larkana — to warrant caution from the patient’s end as well.
Hepatitis can be transmitted through blood; therefore, blood transfusions carry risks too. Blood needs to be screened properly for infectious diseases, particularly hepatitis B, C and HIV, before transfusion. Do not opt for transfusions, or even blood tests, at substandard healthcare facilities.
Contaminated piercings can also lead to the spread of the disease. Always get piercings from trusted places that sterilise their tools before piercing. A surprisingly common source of infection is the equipment used by roadside barbers to give customers shaves and haircuts. It’s best to avoid going to them altogether.
While hepatitis A and E aren’t as deadly as types B and C, they do put a person at risk of prolonged illness and hospital stays. A and E spread through the faecal oral route— drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. Maintaining good hygiene practices is the best way to stay safe.
Wash your hands before every meal and after using the bathroom. Boil drinking water before consumption and make sure all utensils used for cooking are cleaned thoroughly before and after use.
As a lot of misinformation exists about hepatitis, it’s important to remember that the disease cannot be spread by:
#Hepatitis CANNOT be spread through
🍴 sharing eating utensils.
— World Health Organization Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO) July 28, 2018