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Citizens should uplift poor for equal opportunities: Dr Arif Alvi

29 July, 2019

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President Dr Arif Alvi on Sunday has said that Pakistan was on tipping point of socioeconomic development and it was high time for all the citizens played their role to uplift country’s poor by providing them education, health and other opportunities equally.

Addressing a National Conference themed ‘Invest in Eliminating Hepatitis from Pakistan’ in connection with the World Hepatitis Day annually observed on July 28, the president said the prevalence of hepatitis B and C in 15 to 20 million people of Pakistan was alarming.

The event was attended by Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Regional Director WHO Dr Ahmed Salim Al-Mandhari, Assistant Director General Universal Health Coverage, WHO Dr Ren Minghui and health experts from various local and international institutions.

He said the vehicle to transmit the virus of both hepatitis and HIV were same like the unsafe blood transfusion and reuse of syringes which needed to be tackled to avert any volcanic situation.

He said Egypt had brought down the hepatitis prevalence from 13 percent to 3 percent in juts 10 years and it was also doable for Pakistan.

However, the president strongly advocated for focused efforts on prevention of the diseases terming it far cheaper than the cure.

The conference marked the launching of Prime Minister’s Policy Package for Elimination of Viral Hepatitis from Pakistan that would ensure the screening of around 140 million people for hepatitis and provide free medical treatment of those found infected.

According to data, with 10 percent HCV prevalence, about 20 million would be anti HCV positive and would go necessary screening. Almost 80 percent would show the virus and need treatment. Using these estimates, around 16 million cases would need Direct Acting Antivirals and 12 million would be cured.

The president said unfortunately, the health practitioners were not being taught to treat the patients prescribing the minimum possible medicines particularly the antibiotics and injections.

He said the awareness against the viral diseases like hepatitis and HIV could be better created through physical interactions like the leady health workers, besides using the electronic and social media, NGOs and regular seminars.

He said laudably, Pakistan had been trying to eliminate the viral disease despite resource constraints and added that investment in education and health sectors could lead the country to a real change and achievement of Naya Pakistan.

Addressing the conference, SAPM Dr Zafar Mirza said thousands of new hepatitis patients were being added every year due to lack of prevention, testing and treatment resources as well as inadequately screened blood transfusion, improperly sterilized invasive medical devices and unsafe injections.

He said the PM’s ambitious plan to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C infections in the country by 2030 was aimed at providing leadership and coordination to provincial programmes in scaling up hepatitis prevention, testing and treatment services.

In an eye-opening revelation, Dr Mirza said above eight injections per capita are given in Pakistan with around 95 percent of those being unnecessary.

He said Pakistan had the highest ratio of hepatitis prevalence in the world. Most of the factors spreading the virus were originating from the healthcare system including the unsafe blood transfusion and reuse of syringes, he added.

Mirza said a National Blood Service would be developed to ensure transfusion of 100 percent screened blood and the target would be achieved within this government.

He also expressed the commitment to redesign the Hepatitis Control Program in the spirit of the 18th amendment as it had weakened after the devolution. Moreover, a disease surveillance system would be developed to collect the real time data for early intervention.

The SAPM said in order to purge the country of these deadly diseases, it was inevitable to depoliticize the health sector and make concerted efforts considering it a humanitarian cause.

Although Pakistan produces cheaper medicines to cure hepatitis C infection, with a very low cost per cure within three months, very few people in the country know of their infection, and therefore, do not access testing and treatment services. The cost of cure for hepatitis C could be as high as US$15,000 in a country like the US.

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