The World Health Organisation (WHO) has, for the first time ever, released a guideline for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B, a viral infection that spreads through blood and body fluids, attacking the liver.
The guideline includes use of a few simple tests to identify patients, prescription of two drugs and regular monitoring to detect liver damage. Experts said they can be instrumental in eradicating the disease, which otherwise is diagnosed when it is irreversible in form of cirrhosis or liver cancer.
According to the WHO, around 240 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis B virus. In India, hepatitis B is the second most common cause of acute viral hepatitis after hepatitis E.
“The fact that an agency like WHO has released the guideline for the first time is important,” said Dr Ravi Mohanka, gastroenterologist at Global Hospital in Parel. “The biggest problem with the disease is lack of awareness. People are often diagnosed when the disease is irreversible,” he added.
According to statistics by the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), every year, one million Indians are at risk for hepatitis B and about 1,00,000 die from it.
Some doctors, meanwhile, are sceptical about the cost effectiveness of the drugs. “The treatment of hepatitis B in India is cheaper than in the western countries but the WHO indicating the two drugs as inexpensive is not entirely true,” said gastroenterologist Dr Geeta Billa.
The WHO recommendation includes use of a few simple non-invasive tests to assess the stage of liver disease to help identify who needs treatment; the use of two safe and highly effective medicines, tenofovir or entecavir, for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B; and, regular monitoring using simple tests for early detection of liver cancer, to assess whether treatment is working, and if treatment can be stopped’.