Government of India’s Event on Hepatitis B

24 February 2019, Mumbai, India

Mr Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Hon’ble Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare, Government of India; Mr Amitabh Bachchan, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis; Ms Preeti Sudan, Secretary, Health & Family Welfare, Government of India; Dr Pradeep Vyas, Principal Secretary – Health, Government of Maharashtra; Mr Vikas Sheel, Joint Secretary, Health & Family Welfare, Government of India; Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

Today is a significant day. We are gathered to recognize, celebrate and support India’s hepatitis programme and its new guidelines on the prevention, diagnosis and management of hepatitis B.

In a country that accounts for one-sixth of humanity, and has a significant hepatitis B burden, the programme will have a profound impact for the millions of Indians chronically infected with the disease, and the millions more at risk of it.

Given the numbers, it will be an impact that augments India’s remarkable expansion of life-saving treatment for those suffering from hepatitis B and C.

I commend the Ministry’s initiative and hard work.

Hepatitis is explicitly mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goals. Target 3.3, for example, emphasizes the need for all countries to strengthen hepatitis programmes to combat the disease.

The Government of India is also a signatory to World Health Assembly Resolution 69.22. That resolution endorsed WHO’s Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis, which aims to eliminate the disease as a major public health threat by 2030.

WHO’s Regional Action Plan for viral hepatitis, which was adopted at the Seventieth Session of the Regional Committee in 2016, built on this momentum, with India’s input crucial to consultations.

We are most appreciative.

Reflecting its high-level commitment to addressing the issue, India is the first country in the Region to develop its very own national action plan for hepatitis.

This is a notable achievement.

But what is particularly inspiring is that India’s leadership – which is demonstrated in the comprehensive Viral hepatitis Programme launched last year, as well as the hepatitis B-specific guidelines presented today – provides a blueprint for other countries in the Region and across the world to embrace.

That is particularly significant given an estimated 257 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B and 71 million with Hepatitis C globally. Twenty countries account for 75% of global hepatitis burden, almost 15% of which is in countries of our Region; mainly in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand.

Importantly, India’s hepatitis blueprint is aligned with WHO guidelines, regional action plan and many of the best practices that should be leveraged to maximum effect.

This includes making the hepatitis B birth dose a matter of routine. Mother-to-child transmission of the disease is, after all, the most common way it is spread.

It includes enhancing the safety of blood and blood products. All blood donations should be voluntary and non-remunerated, thereby reducing the risk of bloodborne infections, including hepatitis B.

It includes promoting harm reduction in key populations, at the same time as raising public awareness more generally. This is especially important given just 1 in 10 people that have hepatitis know their status.

It includes securing injection safety through safe syringes, avoiding unnecessary injections and infection control in health care settings. India’s embrace of these key preventive measures has been inspiring to witness.

And it includes strengthening integrated surveillance, protecting and training health workers, and augmenting laboratory services.

Very significantly, it includes providing treatment for all people living with hepatitis B and finding ways to ensure it is adhered to.

We also know that just 3-5% of those with hepatitis have been diagnosed, making the scaling up of testing crucial.

Additionally, around 7% of all Indians living with HIV are also coinfected with hepatitis B. Unless both are treated simultaneously, negative outcomes are inevitable.

Friends,

We look forward to the full implementation of these guidelines and to their phased introduction at all levels of the health system.

WHO’s partnership and support to India in eliminating hepatitis is assured.

WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis Mr Amitabh Bachchan has been making commendable efforts to achieve our joint goal, for which we owe him special thanks.

For the past two years Mr Bachchan’s passion, voice and generosity has significantly increased awareness of viral hepatitis across the Region, influencing policymakers and the public alike.

In Mr Bachchan’s many initiatives as Goodwill Ambassador, his message has been powerful in its clarity and resonant in its delivery. It is a message of hope and support, as was appreciated by all Member States when Mr Bachchan addressed them during the Seventieth Session of the Regional Committee in Maldives.

To conclude, I would like to quote from the Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology Commission, which recently stated that ‘the battle for the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030 will be won or lost in the Asian region”.

I am sure that we will win, and that India will make a significant contribution to our collective victory.

Thank you very much.

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