People who underwent surgery or blood transfusion for any reason before 2002 will be screened for Hepatitis C in a new drive by the government. The step has been initiated, as before 2002, blood samples at the blood banks were not examined thoroughly, a senior health ministry official said. The screening programme is expected to start from March, the official said. The number of such people who have undergone surgery or blood transfusion before 2002, ranges between 60 lakh to 1.2 crore. People who are diagnosed with Hepatitis C would undergo treatment free of cost, he said. “The population that would be focused include those who received blood transfusion or underwent surgery before 2002, injection drug users, people receiving repeated blood transfusions (thalassemics and hemophiliacs), those living with HIV and attendees of STI clinics, among others,” the official said. The test facilities are available from primary health centres to district hospitals and the government plans to open 100 more centres for carrying out such tests, he informed. The ministry has also drafted a national action plan for Hepatitis C for ensuring that there is no discrimination on the basis of a patient suffering from Hepatitis and to reduce morbidity and mortality due to the viral disease. The action plan is expected to be rolled out this year. “The objective is to increase awareness and take promotive prevention measures through various stakeholders and to capacitate the health sector response to viral Hepatitis, including early diagnosis, management and surveillance,” the official said.
Viral Hepatitis are mainly of four types — water and foodborne A and E, and bloodborne B and C, and like HIV/AIDS, bloodborne viral hepatitis has stigma attached to it. According to rough estimates, 6-12 million suffer from Hepatitis C in India, and close to 35,000 people succumb to the infection each year. Hepatitis C symptoms sometime may take 10 to 12 years to come to the forefront.