Hepatitis C (Hep-C or HCV) is a virus that can cause liver disease, and if untreated, can be fatal. Chronic HCV is a “silent killer” as usually people do not have any symptoms until they have serious liver damage, which takes many years to develop. Many deaths from serious liver disease or liver cancer can be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment.
In India, Hep-C is a ‘hidden epidemic’. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 12 million people chronically infected with Hep-C in India, the majority of whom do not know their status. Yet, the cost is (as high Rs. 3,75,000/$6000) and complexity (24-48 weeks of injectables) associated with the current treatment has deterred many countries, including India, from investing in a testing and treatment program for controlling this virus.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) India has started providing Hepatitis C treatment for a small number of people co-infected with HIV in its clinic in Mumbai. This year the World Health Organization (WHO) released its guidelines for hepatitis C providing countries with a road map for screening and treating this disease. The guidelines include new oral drugs known as direct antivirals (DAA) that promise to revolutionise treatment with higher levels of cure, simplified regimens and fewer side effects.
On this World Hepatitis Day, let us urge our health minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan to initiate a public health response to control this epidemic by beginning to test, diagnose and treat Hepatitis C.
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