I’d heard of Hepatitis but had a very basic understanding of the medical condition. It was only when my aunty from Pakistan died a couple of months ago from a complication of being chronically infected with the B variant aged only in her fifties, that I wanted to learn more. Hepatitis is defined by inflammation of the liver which can be self-limiting/acute lasting only a couple of months or chronic which can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver – this was the case for my aunty) and liver cancer, there are five hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E.
According to WHO (World Health Organization) these viruses constitute a global health risk, with around 240 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis B alone, and with millions more at risk of being infected. Hepatitis B has caused epidemics in parts of Asia and Africa, and to put it in perspective about a third of the world population has been infected at some point in their lives. WHO’s campaign is “This is hepatitis. Know it. Confront it”, where their objective is to raise awareness of this largely unknown health threat which they describe as a “silent epidemic”.
I read a recent online article (from The News International) where it discuses hepatitis as being a major public health problem in Pakistan with an estimated number of six million people suffering from hepatitis b, and a further seven million from hepatitis c. My aunty was infected with hepatitis b over a decade ago, but even with the aid of anti-viral drugs, the persistent nature of the condition resulted in severe liver disease, at the end she was extremely thin and weak; she eventually lost her years of battling the condition and died in hospital. The sad thing was that her daughter just gave birth to her second child when she past away, and her son is due to get married in a couple of weeks and she won’t get to be part of that. Losing your mum at any age is tough, particularly when she should have had many years left to look forward to, she was very unlucky as the majority of those that are infected with hepatitis b don’t require treatment and manage to clear the infection spontaneously, and early anti-viral treatment can help those like my aunty whose infection takes a very aggressive course, but note the drugs can’t clear the infection but they can stop the virus from replicating, so early diagnosis and treatment are key to managing this condition.
Moving forwards, how do we address this “silent epidemic” and prevent the tragic loss of lives, well World Hepatitis Day provides an opportunity to focus on specific actions, such as:
- strengthening prevention, screening and control of viral hepatitis and its related diseases;
- increasing hepatitis b vaccine coverage and integration of the vaccine into national immunization programmes;
- coordinating a global response to viral hepatitis.
Living with a chronic disease can become a burden for families as those that are ill find it difficult to work, and the cost of anti-viral drugs and transplants for those with liver disease and cancer are high for the health-care systems of developing countries. This places great importance on vaccination programmes developed for the prevention of infection.
One of the things that my dad taught me and this has always stuck with me, is to ‘always give with your heart, and expect nothing in return’ – this is the true meaning of giving and charity. When my aunty (mum’s sister) became ill, my dad would send money to Pakistan to help her and the family, and continued to do so for years. My dad understands what it’s like to have a chronic illness, he contracted TB when he was younger, the result of being a refugee when he was forced to abandon his home as a small boy in India to the newly formed Pakistan during the partition. His success came through hard-work and being extremely clever (he gained the highest marks in Mathematics in his native country at a very young age) enough to gain a scholarship to study in the UK, despite his career success he has always remained humble. I understand what it’s like when a family member has a long-term condition, the TB that my dad contracted in his youth led to complications to his lungs, which has a tremendous effect on his quality of life. I will be donating with my heart this 28th of July, and I will fondly remember my beautiful aunty.
The date of 28 July was chosen for World Hepatitis Day in honour of the birthday of Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch Samuel Blumberg, discoverer of the hepatitis B virus.