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Viral hepatitis major health challenge in Afghanistan

AT News Report-KABUL:  Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Sunday called the viral hepatitis as a major health challenge in Afghanistan, saying it requires urgent actions to strengthen prevention.

MoPH and World Health Organization (WHO) and partners marked the World Hepatitis Day on Sunday to increase public awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases that it causes. Viral hepatitis – a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E – affects millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic liver disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year, comparable to deaths due to tuberculosis and more than the deaths due to HIV.

According to MoPH only one in 20 people with viral hepatitis know they have it, making hepatitis a dangerous and silent killer. Viral hepatitis remains a serious health issue in Afghanistan, especially among vulnerable groups –among injecting drug users hepatitis B prevalence is nearly 7 percent, while hepatitis C prevalence is at 31percent.

“Viral hepatitis is a major public health challenge that requires an urgent response,” said H.E. Deputy Minister of Public Health Dr. Feda Mohammad Paikan. “The Ministry of Public Health continues to scale up its response to viral hepatitis. We support the provision of testing and counseling services for hepatitis B and C through voluntary testing and counseling centers across the country and the hepatitis B vaccine is now part of Afghanistan’s national immunization program. We need to step up our efforts to ensure that not a single Afghan dies of hepatitis B or C, which are preventable and treatable.”

Hepatitis viruses are transmitted through different routes: hepatitis A and E through contaminated food and water; hepatitis B through blood and other bodily fluids, and hepatitis C mostly through blood. Hepatitis D is an additional infection in the presence of Hepatitis B. These viruses all cause acute hepatitis which is characterized by fatigue, loss of appetite, fever and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes).

Hepatitis infection can be prevented by providing safe food and water (hepatitis A and E), vaccines (hepatitis A, B, and E), screening of blood donations and provision of sterile injecting equipment and assuring infection control (hepatitis B and C). Awareness, testing and treatment are key to fighting the virus.

“Every single person could be affected by viral hepatitis and we all have a part to play to achieve elimination,” said Dr Richard Peeperkorn, WHO Afghanistan Country Representative. “WHO is committed to supporting the Ministry of Public Health and partners to fight this silent killer. There is a need to further strengthen access to testing, raise public awareness to fight the stigma associated with the disease, widen vaccination coverage,  improve prevention at health care settings, and provide treatment for people suffering from the disease.”

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