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Cap the H in Hepatitis

Stakeholders in Mumbai raised their voices at a collective community impact strategy meet to tackle this rising healthcare challenge

On a wet and windy Monday afternoon at Trident’s Lotus Room, Non-government Organisation (NGO) United Way Mumbai along with Bristol Myers Squibb and AmeriCares orgainsed a panel discussion on Hepatitis touching on all five forms of the disease and the urgent need for awareness.

(L-R) Kanchana TK, Shripad Desai, Dr Pragji Vaja, Dr Padmaja Keskar and Dr Akash Shukla. Pics/Emmanual Karbhari
(L-R) Kanchana TK, Shripad Desai, Dr Pragji Vaja, Dr Padmaja Keskar and Dr Akash Shukla. Pics/Emmanual Karbhari

Silent killer
More than the fury of nature outside, the problem on hand was set up appropriately with a short film by the World Hepatitis Alliance on the killer disease. The film more like The Muppet Show presented the disease facts with hands playing musical instruments and singing.

After the play ended the Hepatitis Awareness Ribbon was displayed
After the play ended the Hepatitis Awareness Ribbon was displayed

The catchy song ‘Think again, we can all put Hepatitis to an end’ had the audience humming along. The hard statistics were presented next with the World Health Organization (WHO) figures saying that more than 1.5 million people die of the disease every year. Globally, Hepatitis is the eighth biggest killer disease.

A Hepatitis blood test being conducted
A Hepatitis blood test being conducted

SK Mitra, chairman United Way compared Hepatitis to Polio as he set the pace and tone for the afternoon. He said, “Just as good work has been done with Polio and now the disease has been eradicated, similar work needs to be done with Hepatitis. The disease is as hazardous as HIV and AIDS but the awareness of the illness is lacking.”

Students of Ambedkar College put up a play explaining Hepatitis
Students of Ambedkar College put up a play explaining Hepatitis

Urging all NGOs to join hands to do more good work and make Mumbai safer, Mitra handed the microphone to Sunil Mehta, one of the founders of United Way Mumbai. “I am from a financial background and have limited medical knowledge,” began Mehta who explained the objectives of United Way through their youth project Yuvroshni which works on Hepatitis awareness.

SK Mitra Sunil Mehta
SK Mitra and Sunil Mehta

Making a point
Jayanti Shukla, one of the spearheads of Yuvroshni facilitated the panel discussion which had Dr Padmaja Keskar, Executive Health Officer of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Dr Akash Shukla, specialist in liver aliments, Kanchana TK, Director of philanthropy at Bristol Myers Squibb India, Shripad Desai, Managing Director of AmeriCares and Dr Pragji Vaja, office bearer of the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Having worked on various health issues in the city like Immunisation, Malaria and Tuberculosis prevention Dr Padmaja Keskar began first. She explained what the MCGM is doing to curb Hepatitis and its spread. She said, “Hepatitis is a viral disease but it is preventable by creating awareness.

Blood sample checks are being conducted at all blood banks in the city. We are encouraging people to stop sharing needles and also insisting that all gynecologists have pregnant women tested for Hepatitis as mother to child is the most common way of transmission of the disease.”

Dr Akash Shukla was next as he stressed on the role played by the medical fraternity in the prevention of Hepatitis. He said, “Hepatitis B has an effective vaccine which was pilot tested in 2001 and is now being administered across the city. But still the coverage rate of the vaccination is only 50 per cent. Hepatitis germs are so strong that they can theoretically stay alive on inanimate objects for up to a week.”

With a number of papers on liver disorders, Dr Shukla went into the details of the disease and the vaccines available stressing that Hepatitis C has no vaccine available. “Hepatitis was discovered in 1989 and screening of patients for the disease started in 2001 in India.

In 40 per cent of the cases we still do not know how Hepatitis comes or how it spreads. Unnecessary blood transfusion should be avoided, blood needs to be screened, needles should not be shared and sexual promiscuity should be avoided,” advised the doctor.

Supporting a cause
Explaining why Bristol Myers Squibb India has chosen to support the cause of Hepatitis awareness, Kanchana TK said, “Our company has always gone for community impact to help deliver hope with local expertise and sustainable models to fund prevention of diseases. What makes this project extra special is the youth involvement. We have spent Rs 20 crores on 18 grant community outreach projects.”

Shripad Desai explained how AmeriCares India is helping bridge the gap in public and private health services. He said, “There has been a huge increase in urban population from the 2001 census to the 2011 census. But the access that poor people have to health care continues to be substandard. The awareness of illnesses is also lacking here and therefore the media, NGOs and corporates need to work together to change this.”

Dr Pragji Vaja who is a General Practitioner (GP) and runs an NGO called Tarun Mitra Mandal explains the role of a GP in Mumbai. He said, “The best access to the patient is what a General Practitioner enjoys, so he or she has an important role to play. Hepatitis is a viral time bomb and needs to be diffused at the earliest. Prevention is better than cure and so patients need to be made aware of the disease, its causes, prevention and vaccination.”

Calling Hepatitis a silent epidemic, Dr Keskar said, “Hepatitis A and B vaccines are freely given in Mumbai. Cleanliness of drinking water and good food can ensure that Hepatitis A and E do not spread. All those aware of the disease need to work hand in hand to help eradicate it.”

Different approach
“Hepatitis is not like Polio where there is a physical deformity. Here symptoms are hard to find till 80 per cent of the liver has been affected. But this doesn’t mean that the disease is not critical. Much like HIV and Polio, Hepatitis is dangerous and needs to be treated,” said Dr Shukla.

Dr Vaja suggested that all doctors in the city must join hands in the fight against Hepatitis. The discussion ended with all the panelists agreeing that the fight against Hepatitis needs to be undertaken at all levels with effective use of social media, administration and medical practitioners.

The work of Yuvroshni was highlighted by a power point presentation that showed how Hepatitis Week from the last week of July to the first week of August was marked. Green Ribbon Brigade which works at the grassroot level creating Hepatitis awareness by having street plays, awareness rallies, pamphlet distribution, vaccinations and screenings across Mumbai.

Light of youth
Various other NGOs working on Hepatitis like Alert India, Anubhav Mumbai, etc highlighted their work. Dr Lidwin Dias from Anubhav Mumbai who works with the Social Work wing at Nirmala Niketan said, “We have educated 5000 young people from 50 city colleges and so reached 50,000 people helping them understand what Hepatitis is.”

An impact paper was presented which carried out qualitative and quantitative research on the stigma associated with Hepatitis, the knowledge people in Mumbai have, etc. The paper was officially launched by the stakeholders.

This was followed by the beats of the drum as 10 youngsters from Ambedkar College presented a street play on Hepatitis. The play with true nathak style had claps, songs and music with the narrator and characters depicting life and Hepatitis.

The play concentrated on the need for pregnant women to be tested for Hepatitis and explained the disease in detail from symptoms to vaccination. ‘Don’t sit at home, treat Hepatitis. Spread the information’ were the closing words of the play as well as the conference.

Watch out

These are the symptoms of Hepatitis:
>> Loss of appetite.
>> Fatigue.
>> Mild fever.
>> Muscle or joint aches.
>> Nausea and vomiting.
>> Abdominal pain.

More about Hepatitis
>> It is a medical condition defined by inflammation of the liver and is characterised by the presence of inflammatory cells in the tissue of the organ.
>> May occur with limited or no symptoms, often leads to jaundice, poor appetite and malaise. 
>> Hepatitis is acute when it lasts less than six months and chronic when it persists longer.
>> There is Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Out of these Hepatitis A and B have vaccines available while there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.

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