Risk of Neglecting Hepatitis C

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The prevalence of Hepatitis C among individuals in Manipur engaged in injecting drugs is more than 90 percent according to official reports. Gross negligence has been cited as one of the results for the high infection rate of Hepatitis C among IDUs and the death rate from this condition in the state has been rising due to co-infection with HIV. Organizations dedicated to eradication of HIV/AIDS have been instrumental in arresting the spread of HIV, but people with Hep C have suffered due to the absence of such dedicated organizations, sufficient awareness campaigns, absence of free diagnostic facilities and unaffordable rates of drugs. In a way, Hepatitis C has taken the form of a hidden epidemic. Due to persistent negligence and lack of prevention and treatment efforts from the Union health ministry and concerned departments, the path has been cleared for a faster devastation due to Hep C.

The cost of treatment is very expensive standing around Rs 7-6 lakh, although in selected places it has been lowered to around Rs four lakhs without testing charges and Rs 5 lakhs for full treatment. In any case this is an amount that many people will find very hard to bear. Many organisations in Manipur have raised the need for government intervention in arranging cost-effective treatment and preventive measures for Hep C patients asserting that its prevention will have a positive impact on stopping the spread of HIV as well. There has not been any encouraging response from the administration though and many lives have been lost in the period due to the inability to get proper medical care.

Another factor that has apparently hit the people infected with the disease is the lack of proper treatment guidelines and preventive measures to control its onslaught. Even though, Hep C has been regarded as more dangerous than HIV as the virus causing it can last in open atmosphere for much longer period and the chances of transmission are very high, it has been perennially neglected by the authorities when it comes to recognition as a health risk. People infected and affected by Hep C have complained that there are no specific programmes or help groups working for their welfare. Moreover, the dissemination of information regarding the disease and medical experts specializing on its treatment programme are very few, particularly in the state. Patients have confided that they have hesitation in taking the medication prescribed by the doctors as they suspect whether the method of treatment will be capable of saving their lives. Showing more seriousness in countering the threatening disease, the state and Central governments should respond positively for reimbursement to patients with Hep C cases. The pharmaceutical companies should not take advantage of the prevailing conditions by hiking the price of the drugs on their free will. Moreover, the administration should consider the recommendations of the pro-Hep C groups on incorporation of Hep C awareness and treatment in national HIV and blood-borne disease prevention programmes, inclusion of hepatitis C in the state policy for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis medicines in the national essential medicines list and integrate hepatitis C surveillance in the existing HIV sentinel surveillance.

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