CUTTACK: Even as Hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine has been included in the scheme of routine immunisation in the country, a huge chunk of the population is still out of the loop, aiding and abetting transmission of the virus.
Recognising the problem, an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) expert group has called for launch of an intensified catch-up HBV vaccination campaign to cover older children and even adults. The campaign should be started at school-level by the State Governments to ensure coverage of all older children who have not received the vaccination.
The necessity stems from the fact that as the vaccine became part of immunisation programme only a couple of years back and is yet to pick up pace, almost the bulk of children are likely to not have received the shots. The problem is compounded with high level of ignorance about the disease in the population. More than 70 per cent of the population is still unaware of Hepatitis B and its consequences. Despite being part of immunisation schedule now, the goal of eradication of HBV from the country will get delayed due to existing and potential carriers. A targeted approach should, thereby, be adopted to cover all the children through catch-up vaccination programme on a mission mode, said ICMR Core Committee member on viral hepatitis and Professor of Gastroenterology at SCB Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack SP Singh.
Incidence of Hepatitis B is estimated to be around three to four per cent in Indian population. However, in certain ethnic groups, particularly among tribals in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Odisha, the rate of prevalence is astoundingly high even crossing 50 per cent. Though there is no systematic database, more than 46 million people in India are infected with HBV.
Hepatitis B is more virulent than HIV and is the major cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer. Most people with the virus are unaware of their condition until they develop serious complications. The Core Committee, which held its meeting in New Delhi recently, has taken note of increasing incidence of Hepatitis C (HCV), which has progressed to be a major public health problem in Punjab, Kashmir and North Eastern (NE) States, and also rise in co-infection of HCV and HIV in several regions.
Hepatitis C involves the same transmission routes as HBV and HIV like blood-to-blood contact and sexual activities. It is spreading alarmingly in Punjab, Kashmir and NE States where prevalence is as high as 50 per cent. In other parts of the country, its incidence is negligible but the threat looms large. While a vaccine for the disease is yet to be developed, there are expensive but effective therapeutic interventions for HCV.
The Core Committee also deliberated on linking the anti retroviral therapy (ART) centres for HIV with HBV and HCV. “This can streamline the diagnosis, treatment and control modalities for all the three infections as we are marking increase in co-infection rates,” Prof Singh, who is also the Secretary General of Indian Association for Study of Liver (INASL) said. Prof Singh’s Kalinga Gasroenterology Foundation (KGF) is set to observe the World Hepatitis B Eradication day on Monday where Dr Blumberg Oration will be delivered by renowned gastroenterologist Dr AT Mohan of Chennai.
The KGF Samman Award would be presented to Head of Gastroenterology in IMS and Sum Hospital Dr Manoj Sahu.