"The aim of these laboratories will be to find the burden of viral hepatitis in India by 2017 and to provide lab support for investigating outbreaks," Lov Verma, Secretary of Union Health Ministry said today at a roundtable consultation organised by Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) in collaboration with WHO Country Office for India on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day.

He also stressed on focusing on the preventive aspects rather than treatment of viral Hepatitis given the limited health resources in India.

Mass awareness, education and setting up universal guidelines for immunization are needed to fight the disease which kills three lakh people across the country every year.

Standardisation of blood bank practices and introduction of nucleic acid testing (NAT) is important for preventing blood transfusions related to viral hepatitis, Verma said.

There are five main hepatitis viruses, types A, B, C, D and E of which B and C is most fatal as it can lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer. Hepatitis B and C are both blood borne and can be transmitted from man to man.

"Hepatitis B is responsible for 1.4 million deaths every year (compared to 1.5 million deaths from HIV/AIDS and 1.2 million from each of malaria and TB)," said Shiv Sarin, Director of ILBS as he called for collective efforts in reducing the burden of the disease.

"India has over 40 million hepatitis B infected patients (second only to China) and constitutes about 15 per cent of the entire pool of hepatitis B in the world. Tribal areas in India have high prevalence of hepatitis B. Every year, nearly 600,000 patients die from HBV infection in the Indian continent. Outbreaks of acute and fulminant hepatitis B still occur mainly due to inadequately sterilized needles and syringes," explained Sarin.

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