United Against Hepatitis- A Network for Hepatitis Free Society

By Anil Parmar, United Way Mumbai

In 2016, 194 governments including that of India committed to eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. In doing so, India has committed to diagnosing 30 per cent of people living with viral hepatitis by 2020 and 90 per cent of people by 2030. A country such as India with a vast population faces many challenges, including low awareness of viral hepatitis, difficulty identifying those who are infected, providing linkages to treatment, care and support to the positive patients, and ensuring immunisation against hepatitis B. These challenges are exacerbated in high risk community groups such as commercial sex workers, sexual minority groups, people who inject drugs, and public health care workers, as access to quality medical interventions remain limited. Mass awareness and sensitisation efforts along with improving access to public health care systems can address these challenges.

Need for mass awareness campaigns
The role played by Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) for public education on Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) during the 1980s and 90s in India is well documented. Transmission modes of hepatitis B and C are similar to those of AIDS; however awareness pertaining to this disease is much lower than AIDS, especially among socially and economically vulnerable sections of the communities. A movement by NGOs and CBOs along with the government machinery on mass sensitisation of these diseases will go a long way in voluntary reporting for testing and vaccination among communities, and will help with reducing stigma and prejudices.

Linkages with public health care
Improving access to public health services is a vital step in ensuring timely diagnosis and affordable care for everyone. Such services exist within the public health infrastructure as India already has a comprehensive and integrated National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme. However, knowledge related to such services and schemes, especially among vulnerable and high risk community groups, remain negligible. Stigma attached to these disease works as an impediment for vulnerable community group to access public health care. Such barriers need to be removed through constant individual and social support to the patients. Both public hospitals and NGOs on the ground can undertake interventions and improve access to health care systems through effective diagnosis services at the door step, plus medical referral, follow up for treatment compliance, and patient support groups.

The United Against Hepatitis Network

With the twin objectives of mass awareness and improving access to public health care, a group of organisations and stakeholders came together to launch the ‘United Against Hepatitis Network’ on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day, 2019. The network is convened by United Way Mumbai, an NGO working on viral hepatitis in Mumbai since 2010. The stakeholders include NGOs and CBOs which focus on community health, as well as public health professionals, representatives of the Public Health Department, and hospitals in the city. The network has already received sign ups from six NGOs, whose beneficiaries are high risk individuals such as commercial sex workers, people who inject drugs, single migrant workers, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. All member NGOs are receiving capacity-building training for staff, free of cost testing and vaccination for community beneficiaries, linkages to public hospitals, and treatment support for positive patients.
Such collective action is critical in achieving the vision of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. Please join us in this movement. You can find out more about this initiative by clicking here, or reach out to us at contact@unitewaymumbai.org.

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