HepCosdismayed at State’s failure to take Viral Hepatitis seriously

Gangtok, 28 Jul:

Hepatitis Coalition of Sikkim [HepCos] has expressed its deep disappointment with the State Health Department leadership and lack of political will to address the issue of Viral Hepatitis in the State. The organisation has further expressed that the department has failed to provide lifesaving drugs to cure and prevent Viral Hepatitis till date despite advocating the issue to the department for almost three years now.

This was expressed by HepCos members during a sensitization programme-cum-press conference on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day 2018 here today. The programme was addressed by coordinator, Prashant Sharma, convener,Tsewang Sherpa, member, MahendraTamang, focal person [Viral Hepatitis], SurenRai, and focal person [TB], Rinzing Bhutia.

HepCos was founded in August 2015 and is the only state-level organisation in Sikkim which represents the people living with Viral Hepatitis, HIV, TB and people who use drugs across the State.

It is informed that HepCos was envisioned as the state level coalition that will liaison with the government on the treatment, diagnostics and other basic health services to the vulnerable community and the general population.

Mr Sharma said that inspite of repeated pleas for the urgent need to provide services to test and treat hepatitis C in the State since 2015, the State Health Department continues to ignore the appeal by HepCos.

While explaining about the Hepatitis virus, he stated that the government should start free test and treatment for Hepatitis in the State and should negotiate with the pharma companies at its level. He stated that people have been dying of Hepatitis virus and more are getting infected due to lack of information and awareness on it. He added that after losing hope of getting heard by the department, HepCos has decided to take this serious issue directly to the Chief Minister.

“As part of its advocacy for access to the Treatment Drugs in March 2016, an RTI was filed seeking information on Hepatitis C prevalence rate and test and treatment programme in Sikkim. In response, the Health Department stated that Hepatitis C is not a major health concern which clearly speaks volumes about the laid back attitude of the department,” they mentioned.

Following the same, HepCos started collecting data in and around Gangtok through Hepatitis C treatment literacy programme and in the process 225 individuals were tested where 25 [10.39%] were found positive. It is added that the data shows that there was a high number of people living with Hepatitis C Virus in Sikkim and most were not aware of Hepatitis C Virus.

It is informed that the forum submitted a letter to LokSabha MP, PD Rai, Health Minister, AK Ghatani, and DG-cum-Secretary of Health Department, Dr K Bhandari,in Jun 2016 demanding free Hepatitis test and treatment in Sikkim as Hepatitis C test and treatment is very expensive and most people living with Hepatitis could not afford the test and treatment.

In response, it is informed, DrBhandari assured that test and treatment will roll out for the people living with Hepatitis C and following the same, a consultation and recommendation letter addressed to DG-cum-Secretary was submitted on 08 March 2016 urging the department to include Hepatitis C test and treatment facility in the State health scheme.

In the meantime, five persons have died from Hepatitis C including three bread earners of the family, the HepCos members added.

They again approached DrBhandari who then directed the head of Gastroenterology Department, Dr Suresh M Rasaily, to make a proposal on Hepatitis C test and treatment but the issue has remained unresolved since then.

It is informed that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has announced today the National Action Plan to eliminate Viral Hepatitis by 2030 and programme will be implemented in a phase-wise manner.