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Treatment for Hepatitis neglected in Nagaland

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Kohima, July 28: “There is no coordination between doctors and nurses, and in their failure to provide information in relation to viral hepatitis, patients are being tossed between doctors and nurses in Nagaland,” stated Abou Mere, Director, Kripa Foundation, at a virtual press conference jointly organized by Ark Foundation, Kripa Foundation and Nagaland Users’ Network (NUN) on July 28 in commemoration of World Hepatitis Day.
Mere said “I do not see the sustained commitment and action from all the stakeholders, be it the State Government, Health Department, CSOs, NGOs or even the affected communities and high-risk groups in response to Viral Hepatitis even with the launch of the World Largest Hepatitis Control Program by Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, J.P Nadda on July 28, 2018, with a commitment that no one is left behind and countrywide elimination of Viral Hepatitis is achieved.”
A study conducted on the burden on Hepatitis C by the Center for AIDS, Hopkins University (JHU) and YRG Care Chennai shows Dimapur town has 9.1% prevalence of HCV, which was published in Lancet Journal in 2014. The independent studies of JHU and YRG are still ongoing in Dimapur. However, it is unfortunate that they did not share/disseminate their findings with the State Government till date, Mere said.
With no surveillance system in place or independent studies available in our state, the burden of Hepatitis C (HCV) disease is unknown. In the context of Nagaland, though not much independent studies are available, however data of the Integrated Bio Behavioural Assessment (IBBA) study among injecting drug users from two districts Phek and Wokha showed prevalence rates of 8.7 and 20.8 % respectively, Mere added.
President, Ark Foundation, Ketho Angami said it was only in the year 2018 that the national Viral Hepatitis control program was launched by the central Government, yet the program failed to take off in an aggressive manner. The situation was further worsened by COVID- 19 crisis which is threatening to derail the program across the country.
“One particular health crisis should not overshadow another health crisis. Both, pandemic should be addressed with equal priority,” Angami stated.
However, this hasn’t been the case across the country and more so in Nagaland. Reasons like, the district hospitals which are expected to have a treatment for viral Hepatitis B and C functioning has been converted into a COVID-19 Care Hospital and has been labelled as “sealed area”.
While acknowledging the threat of COVID-19 to the safety of public health as genuine crisis and an international emergency, Ketho Angami said restrictions of entry to hospitals in the State have deterred people from availing the services. Another reason, being the entire health machineries has been focusing on addressing the containment and treatment of COVID-19.
This has resulted in total absence of any medical work force in the hospitals to address the needs of people who desire to get tested and treated for Viral Hepatitis B and C, Angami added.
Calling upon the Government of Nagaland to restore the State Viral Hepatitis Control Program in the State, he reminded that the right to health is as fundamental as civil rights. “It should not be a privilege. We are not asking to be given more attention to that of COVID-19, but we shouldn’t be treated with less priority”.
Highlighting the present reality of people with varied forms of Hepatitis in the State, Angami mentioned that with the lack of awareness about Central Government’s provision for free testing, diagnostics and treatment of Hepatitis since 2018, most patients are left with no other option but opt for private medical practitioners who charges exorbitant medical fees.
Given the fact that the normal treatment course of Hepatitis last for three months, with a monthly treatment ranging from Rs 5000 to Rs 15,000 in the private sector, marginalized people and people with financial constraints suffer the most, he added.
In a direct address to the Principal Director of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Nagaland, he said, “You have to take care of the many children that you have, certain mechanisms should be put in place to address this problem.”
Lamenting the lack of initiatives from the State Government through awareness drive and campaign against Hepatitis, Imti Aier, an activist based in Dimapur, said, “We have a lot of private practitioners in collusion with different pharmaceutical companies who are dispensing treatment, so in this case only people with money can avail the treatment and the marginalized men/women cannot avail treatment for financial reasons.” (Page News Service)