India rolls out National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme

The programme is seen to be a step ahead in India’s global commitment towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.3, affirmed by India at the 69th World Health Assembly.

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Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey

To achieve countrywide elimination of Hepatitis C by 2030, the ‘National Action Plan – Viral Hepatitis’ was launched recently in Mumbai.

Recognised as an important public health problem across the world, Viral Hepatitis or infectious jaundice caused by Hepatitis A Virus (HAV), ‘a picornavirus transmitted by the fecal-oral route often associated with ingestion of contaminated food or water’, resulted in 1.34 million deaths globally in 2015 according to the World Health Organization’s estimates which is a number comparable to deaths due to tuberculosis, worldwide.

The aim of the programme, launched by Union Minister of State, Health and Family Welfare, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, is to combat Hepatitis; achieve significant reduction in the infected population; morbidity and mortality associated with Hepatitis B and C viz. Cirrhosis and Hepato-cellular carcinoma (liver cancer) and Hepatitis A and E.

In India, it is estimated that there are four crore people suffering from Hepatitis B and 0.6-1.2 crore people suffering from Hepatitis C (caused by contact with an infected person’s blood).

Developed by experts from across the country, the National Action Plan is touted to be in line with India’s commitment of eradicating Hepatitis and keeping the global perspective in mind. The Plan provides a strategic framework, based on which National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme (NVHCP) was framed and launched in July 2018 under National Health Mission by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis, WHO South East Asia region, actor Amitabh Bachchan who was diagnosed with Hepatitis B in 2005 which affected 75 per cent of his liver due to an infected blood transfusion during his major accident on the set of the 1982 film ‘Coolie’ said, “I am a living example of a Hepatitis B victim; need to pay a lot of attention to detection, treatment and public awareness.”


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The programme is also seen to be a step ahead in India’s global commitment towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.3, affirmed by India at the 69th World Health Assembly.

“Many countries have achieved outstanding coverage with the Hepatitis B vaccine, scoring an early win for prevention. In India, Hepatitis B vaccine was introduced in the Universal Immunisation Programme almost a decade ago.”

Since healthcare workers and high-risk groups by virtue of their occupation and behaviour are more vulnerable to acquiring infection, it is envisaged to extend the beneficiaries for this vaccine to healthcare workers and high-risk groups under the NVHCP.

India is one of the few countries in the world to roll out management of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in a public health approach and offer free diagnostics and life-long drugs to its beneficiaries.

Minister for PWD and Public Health and Family Welfare, Government of Maharashtra, Eknath S. Shinde said, “More than 151 health and wellness centres have been set up in Maharashtra under Ayushman Bharat, and more than 12,000 primary health centres and sub-centres in the state will be upgraded into health and wellness centres in the coming years.”

 

“Technical Guidelines for diagnosis and management of Hepatitis B will help ensure consistency in diagnosis and treatment of the disease,” said Preeti Sudan, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.


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Integrating the interventions within the existing health systems framework under National Health Mission is further complementing the efforts of increasing access to testing and management of Viral Hepatitis, pointed out Choubey while stressing, “Our aim is to provide paperless and pocket-less health care for all”.

‘Coordination and collaboration with other national programs and schemes to provide a promotive, preventive and curative package of services will further augment the Government of India’s determined efforts towards achieving the goal,’ he further added.

“The Minister also released the Technical Guidelines for Diagnosis and Management of Hepatitis B.”

Focus under the programme is also on screening of pregnant women for Hepatitis B, in places where institutional delivery is less than 80 per cent, to ensure provision of birth dose Hepatitis B vaccination and Hepatitis B immunoglobulin, if required.

Another prominent strategy adopted by the programme is propagating the use of Re-use Prevention (RUP) syringes in the country.

“Today, we have taken a pledge to fight Hepatitis; while we have done this in the presence of hundreds of people, the message should go to crores of people,” Choubey said.