The latter half of the 20th century witnessed one of the deadliest epidemics to rise throughout the world. With the process of blood transfusion having been improved and made easier, more medical professionals chose to use this life-saving technique to help their patients. However, due to lacking blood screening technology and resources and insufficient knowledge regarding the apt protocol to carry out the procedure, blood infected with the Hepatitis C virus was transfused into otherwise healthy patients. This created an alarming situation, where several thousands of people were slowly dying at the hands of fatal, chronic liver disease. Hepatitis caused severe liver inflammation and failure, thus depriving the human body of an organ so vital that sustenance is impossible without it. The gravity of the situation compelled doctors and researchers to develop methodologies that could screen donated blood for hepatitis viruses and prevent the transfusion of contaminated blood. Since then, the picture has changed significantly, and blood transfusion has become incredibly safe. Transmission of Hepatitis by Contaminated Blood Transfusion in Pakistan.
However, if one looks at the reports published by the World Health Organization, one is astounded by the sheer number of people who are still believed to be affected by the hepatitis virus. It is estimated that, globally, around 71 million people have the virus in their systems. A significant proportion of them is expected to face the maturity of the disease and suffer from irreversible liver cirrhosis and possibly even death. As of now, around four hundred thousand people die annually because of the disease, and this number is expected to triple in the upcoming years.
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In the developed world, the transmission of Hepatitis virus is rarely ever due to the transfusion of infected blood; there are other modes of transmitting that prevail there. However, in countries like Pakistan, which are still struggling with infrastructural and facility development, contaminated blood transfusion remains a top reason for the spread. Over the years, since it came into being, Pakistan has had to deal with corruption and power-mongering state rulers, who have taken little interest in the maintenance and upgrade of local systems and departments. The field of medicine has suffered greatly due to this. Currently, the infrastructure required for blood transfusion, as per global standards, is unavailable in most areas of the country. Regional blood centres are only a thing in a selected few cities. Internationally recommended guidelines for safe and proper blood transfusion and proper lab practices are either not communicated or are simply ignored. The human resource present in the field is untrained and unspecialized. And sadly, there is rampant use of substandard, manual blood screening devices. These circumstances make Pakistan a hotspot for the transfer of the deadly hepatitis virus through blood transfusion.
Pakistan is one of those countries in Asia where the number of Hepatitis cases reported is exponentially increasing. A very large fraction of the populace of the country is sitting on time bombs, meaning that they are infected by the Hep C virus, but it has not shown symptoms yet. This makes them think that they are healthy and blood banks/centres do not choose to do any additional blood screening. It is estimated by another WHO report that despite the alarming situation, only 23 % of all the blood banks opt for Hep C screening. The horror that this could unleash is unfathomable. We, today, stand at the brink of an epidemic that could break out any minute. Since a large population is infected by the HCV and because Hep C testing is a rare occurrence, people continue to unknowingly spread the virus to others.
As of now, the incidence of HCV stands at a staggering 80%. This puts Pakistan in the second place in the list of countries which share the highest-burden of HCV. Due to a lack of tertiary medical facilities available for people, more than one million people in the country lose their lives because of the disease, annually. This number is projected to increase significantly if swift action is not taken to curb the transmission.
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The urgency of the situation in Pakistan demands immediate attention. The government of Pakistan should take definitive steps in a positive direction and help eradicate this disease from its land. As individuals, we should also test ourselves for the disease so that we don’t, unknowingly, spread the virus.