Thanks to cost effective treatment, large number of hepatitis patients from other countries come to India


Chennai: It is a fact that treatment for hepatitis C costs much less in India than in most developed nations, and city transplant surgeons say they see a lot more overseas patients flying in to Chennai for treatment.

At Global Hospitals, liver transplant surgeon Dr Dinesh Jothimani says in the last six months he has seen an equal number of patients from India and abroad. “I see 3-4 patients from India with hepatitis C every week and the same number from countries in Middle East and elsewhere,” he says. While the entire hepatitis C course of treatment costs under `1 lakh in India, in countries like the US it could cost anywhere from Rs 30 lakh to Rs 40 lakh with just a single pill costing $800.

Hepatitis C -like hepatitis B -is a liver disease caused by the blood-borne hepatitis virus. Hepatitis C can result in liver cancer and cirrhosis, with the most common modes of infection being through inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, and unsafe blood transfusions. But unlike the more prevalent and deadlier hepatitis B, which can only be con trolled and not cured, newer treatments for hepatitis C have made the disease curable in 90% of the cases.

Dr Jothimani says that earlier the cure rate for hepatitis C was just 30-40% but it is now 90%. “Earlier the treatment, apart from being less effective, would go on for more than a year, but the newer treatment is more effective and is for six months.”

“With the cure rate having gone up and the prices being lower here, people are willing to fly in,” says Dr RP Shanmugam, one of the first liver transplant surgeons in the country and founder of the Chennai Liver Foundation (CLF), organising a liver disease awareness walkathon on July 28, World Hepatitis Day. “The other reason for overseas patients flying in is that the technical know-how and medical treatment in India is much better,” he adds.

According to Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for SouthEast Asia, in the South-East Asia Region, viral hepatitis, causes premature death and disease with 100 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

“The total number of carriers of hepatitis in the country is 52 million. The prevalence of hepatitis B is 3-5%, while the prevalence of hepatitis C is 1%,” says liver transplant surgeon Dr Vivek Shanmugam. “One of the main challenges is that most people do not know they have chronic hepatitis unless they find out by accident. By then the disease is far advanced.”

Courtesy: The Times of India