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Early detection vital in battle against hepatitis

Update: September, 10/2013 - 10:24
Screening for hepatitis should be more prevalent in Viet Nam, particularly in remote and mountainous regions, so the incidence of liver cancer could be reduced.— Photo nihbt

HCM CITY (VNS)— Screening for hepatitis should be more prevalent in Viet Nam, particularly in remote and mountainous regions, so the incidence of liver cancer could be reduced.

The advice was made by Professor Bui Duy Tam, chairman of the International Liver Foundation for Viet Nam.

Tam, who is also chairman of the San Francisco-HCM City Sister City Committee, told Viet Nam News that hepatitis is often a silent disease in which symptoms do not appear until the liver is severely damaged.

At that point, it would be too late for treatment, he said.

Hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus are the main causes of liver cancer, cirrhosis and acute liver failure, he said.

Dr. Ho Tan Phat, deputy head of Cho Ray Hospital's digestive and liver diseases ward, told local media that the treatment method for primary liver cancer caused by hepatitis B and C was a liver transplant.

However, finding liver donors is difficult and the cost for a transplant runs into the hundreds of millions of Vietnamese dong.

Phat said that preventive methods against hepatitis such as vaccines should be taken, and that early detection and treatment was critically important.

Tam also said that preventive measures against liver disease were always more effective than treatment for hepatitis B and C viruses.

The vaccine for hepatitis B prevention has been shown to be very effective, he said.

From 1984 to 2004, Taiwan's vaccination programme has reduced the incidence of hepatitis B from 10 per cent to less than 1 per cent in children, according to Tam.

In 2010, only 0.1 per cent of children under one year old had been infected with the hepatitis virus.

Tam said that children and adults should be checked for hepatitis A, B or C with a blood test.

If the blood tests are negative for hepatitis B infection or exposure, the patient needs to take three vaccine shots over six months to prevent liver disease and further complications.

If the test is positive for HBsAg or is anti-hepatitis C, doctors can provide a second evaluation with possible monitoring and proper treatment.

Tam said that more education activities about the disease and vaccinations were needed in Viet Nam.

Since 2009, the International Liver Foundation for Viet Nam has worked with many hospitals to carry out the Viet Nam Liver Project which aims to educate the Vietnamese public, train health professionals and provide screening, vaccination and treatment services to the public.

In the project, students of medicine and pharmacy universities, particularly nursing faculties in Viet Nam, are screened and receive vaccination shots as they are exposed to a higher risk of transmission of the virus, Tam said.

More and more people have been infected with the hepatitis B and C viruses in recent years, Tam said.

"The bad news is that one in every 10 people has hepatitis B or C with ongoing hepatitis and even may have no knowledge about it," he added.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Viet Nam is one of the top nine countries with the highest incidence of hepatitis in the Western Pacific Region.

As of July, 10-20 per cent of the total population has been infected with hepatitis B, and 4-5 per cent with hepatitis C.

Statistics released in 2010 showed that in the last 10 years, the hepatitis B infection rate had doubled from 10 to over 20 per cent in the provinces of Thai Binh, Thanh Hoa and Thua Thien Hue, Tam said.

In large cities such as Ha Noi and HCM City, the percentage was increasing because of high population density and prostitution and injectable drug use, he said.

Many people in Viet Nam, especially those living in remote villages or ethnic minorities in mountainous regions or fishing villages, have not had the habit of being screened for detection, he said.

The number of children infected with hepatitis B in Western-Pacific countries including Viet Nam is not less than 2 per cent, according to the WHO. This is primarily due to the low number of children getting the vaccine.

From 2003 to 2006, the number of babies in Viet Nam vaccinated 24 hours after delivery fell from 94 per cent to 60 per cent. — VNS

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