Tue, 10 Oct 2000

'Don't be afraid of Hepatitis B': Expert

JAKARTA (JP): Though admitting that the country is home to around 15 million Hepatitis B virus carriers, an expert called on the people exposed to the disease not to be afraid or lose hope as there is medication that can kill the virus.

"There is an antidote for Hepatitis B virus. The first generic antivirus medicine that can be taken orally is 3TC-HBV tablets," said Ali Sulaiman, chief of the working group on Hepatitis B identification and dean of the University of Indonesia's school of medicine.

He said the 3TC-HBV tablets were safer than any injected antivirus.

"But many people, including doctors, are ignorant about this illness and how it is transmitted among people," Ali said in a media briefing on International Day of Hepatitis B Care 2000.

He said Hepatitis B patients also suffered from discrimination as once they were pronounced as carriers, many companies would not hire them.

"There was even a doctor who did not want to visit his ill colleague just because he was afraid of being exposed to the virus. That was ridiculous," Ali said.

"That is wrong. They (patients) can work as usual, especially if the virus is passive. An inactive virus is very hard to detect, even through biopsy," he added.

In adults some 95 percent of Hepatitis B virus will die down naturally while only about five percent leads to chronic illness, he said.

He said the virus could only be transmitted through direct injection, blood transfusion or genetic factors.

"Open or cut wounds are able to transmit the disease. But as long as the skin is healthy, it won't catch the disease," Ali said.

He also called on doctors not to give a quick diagnosis for patients detected with Hepatitis B, as there were two kinds of carriers, namely the healthy (passive virus) and the chronic (active virus).

"Only the chronic patients need treatment.

"Doctors must give proper recommendations for Hepatitis B carriers, especially those at young and productive ages. Do not scare people and end their hopes of living," he said.

Indonesia is home to around 15 million Hepatitis B virus carriers, some 40 percent of whom are suffering from the chronic infectious disease.

"There are some 350 million people worldwide who are infected by Hepatitis B, but not many are aware of this. From the total amount, 78 percent are in Asia," Director General of Communicable Disease Control, Environmental and Health Umar Fahmi Achmadi told the same media briefing.

In Indonesia, Hepatitis B is mostly found in the eastern part of the country due to certain variables, such as geographic and genetic factors, Umar said.

Ali said chronic Hepatitis B can lead to other serious diseases such as liver cancer and cirrhosis.

"To determine whether a person has Hepatitis B, one must go through a series of preliminary tests such as screening test, and for new born babies, an immunization on Hepatitis B must be done within 48 hours.

"For babies, the immunization effect will last an average of five years," he said.

In an effort to cope with the spreading of infectious disease, the ministry of health and social welfare has allocated some Rp 141 billion (US$16.3 million) funds for immunization of about 4.6 million babies in the year 2001.

"The basic immunization package includes vaccine of Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Polio and TBC. This is important as immunization is an investment in our human resources," Umar said.

For safety reasons Hepatitis B antibody will be given through Uniject HB, which is a disposable needle as provided by Global Alliance Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI), he said.

So far Uniject HB is only used in 13 provinces.

"Hopefully, by 2015 Hepatitis B will be eradicated worldwide since only humans and chimpanzees get the disease," Umar said.

In accordance with the commemoration of the International Day on Hepatitis B Care, the ministry will hold a free screening test for the illness at Mal Citraland in West Jakarta on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15.

More information on the disease and its treatment is available at Hepatitis B Working Group on Jl. Percetakan Negara 29 in Central Jakarta, Ph. (021) 424-9024, 425-7044. (edt)