Free Hepatitis Screenings on the Way in Indonesia
Health officials will provide limited free hepatitis screenings in Jakarta to address the high prevalence of the disease, an official said on Thursday.
“In 2012, we will conduct free hepatitis screenings for 100,000 people in Jakarta,” H.M. Subuh, the Health Ministry’s director of communicable diseases, said at a press conference.
“It’s a pilot project and we will probably conduct similar screenings in other provinces in the future,” he added.
He said the project would take place over a six-month period and the results would be used to compile a database that the government could then use to formulate policies to tackle the spread of the liver infection.
“Honestly, we don’t have enough data on how many people actually have the disease, especially hepatitis B and C, which can be fatal, which is why we need a more comprehensive sampling,” Subuh said.
He added that high-risk groups, such as injecting drug users and health workers with frequent exposure to other people’s blood, would be prioritized for the free screenings.
Ali Sulaiman, a hepatologist from the University of Indonesia, said the government should make a proper prevention program and early detection its main goals to begin to reduce the prevalence of hepatitis.
“The government should provide free vaccinations for children under five years old and for adults in high-risk groups,” he said. “Only then will we be able to reduce the prevalence of the disease in Indonesia.”
Subuh said the ministry was considering free hepatitis vaccinations for toddlers, but this was difficult due to a lack of funding.
“The expansion of the program to children under the age of 5 is definitely on our agenda, and while vaccinating high-risk adults is also important, we obviously have to consider the constraints,” he said.
“It’s going to be very expensive to provide free vaccinations to all toddlers, but since it’s a preventative measure, it’s still going to be cheaper than trying to treat the disease.”
According to the 2008 National Basic Health Study (Riskesdas) — the most recent survey of its kind — an estimated 9.4 percent of Indonesia’s population of more than 220 million has either hepatitis B or C.
Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the director general for disease control and environmental health at the Health Ministry, said around 30 million people nationwide were infected with some strain of hepatitis, which attacks the liver and can lead to serious problems like organ failure and cancer.
Some 1.5 million Indonesians are at high risk of getting liver cancer, a statistic that places Indonesia third worldwide among countries with the highest number of hepatitis B and C cases. Only China and India have higher numbers.
Worldwide, an estimated 170 million people have either hepatitis B or C, according to World Health Organization figures. Some 1.5 million people die of the disease annually.http://bit.ly/qT1m8L