The Health Foundation striving for a Hepatitis Free Pakistan

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 THF has so far registered 2785 patients for Free Treatment

The Health Foundation striving
for a Hepatitis Free Pakistan

After successful Hepatitis Free Community project,
THF starts adopt a patient programme

KARACHI: Un-necessary on demand use of injections, unsafe blood transfusion, re-use of  needles and syringes, use of unsterilized instruments by the healthcare professionals besides hospital environment has played a vital role in spreading Hepatitis which has now become a major public health problem in Pakistan. According to reports normal prevalence is between 12-13% but in some areas the prevalence is very high. Till recently treatment with interferon was beyond the reach of majority of the patients but with the discovery and marketing of oral preparations for the treatment of Hepatitis-C, it has become possible to find a cure for this dreadful disease. Looking at the disease burden, it is evident that it won’t be possible for the Government alone to fight this disease. Hence, some Non-Governmental Organizations and Foundations have been established by conscious people in the society to fight this menace. The Health Foundation is one such organization which has been doing a commendable job in this field ever since it’s inception in 2007 and is striving for a Hepatitis Free Pakistan.

THF is the brainchild of Mr. Saeed Allawala Managing Director of Atco Laboratories who is also Chairman of The Health Foundation.  Eminent healthcare professionals like Dr. Saad Khalid Niaz Consultant Gastroenterologist, Dr. Huma Qureshi who is also Director of PMRC, Dr. Naseem Salahuddin an Infectious Disease specialists  and many others are helping THF to realize its objectives in different ways. Dr. Laila Rizvi is the Executive Director of THF and its Board of Governors has eight members. While talking to Pulse International recently, Mr. Saeed Allawala gave details as to how it all started and then also highlighted the aims, objectives of the Health Foundation besides sharing its accomplishments so far.  He pointed out that we were marketing Interferon injections and some of the consultants used to refer deserving and needy patients who were provided these injections either free or on subsidized rates. But then the number of these people who were being referred for help increased. It was then that we realized that let us provide this service in a better and organized way. So it was in 2007 that the idea of setting up The Health Foundation came to our mind. The main objective was to create awareness as well as provide treatment.  We ran this programme for two years and then realized that it will be much better if we select a particular community and make it Hepatitis Free that is how this Hepatitis Free Community concept was started.

We already had the baseline prevalence survey of Hepatitis B and C conducted by Pakistan Medical Research Council. We selected Korangi area in Karachi as the first community project which is now in its fifth and last year. Donors were approached while the Government of Sindh also extended useful assistance. We have been providing immunization facilities and Interferon for treatment. We also provide syringes, create awareness among staff, nurses, and paramedics who are all educated. We wanted to make it a model which can be replicated later. After Malir, we selected Sanghar, Tharparkar, Ghotki and Dharaki area in interior of Sindh. Donors from these areas were identified and in some cases it was the donors who approached us to work in that particular area. ENGRO one of our donors was interested to have this service in their area in Ghotki, hence we started working there.

 Safe Sharp Waste Management programme has been started as a joint venture by The Health Foundation in collaboration with WHO and PMRC. At present thirteen healthcare facilities in Karachi and two hospitals in Lahore are implementing this. This programme started from JPMC in Karachi. We convinced the Director of JPMC and heads of all the thirty two wards including Emergency to run this programme successfully. WHO customized needle cutters were provided in the wards, sharp edge of needles was destroyed and the waste was properly managed after collecting from all the wards. It required lot of monitoring and supervision.

We screened pregnant women for HBV and HCV and one hundred sixty one out of a thousand were found positive.  Their babies were given medication within twenty four hours of their birth, thus they were saved from Hepatitis-B. GAVI has been supporting us and we have also collaborated with APPNA to create awareness about hepatitis. Dr. Laila Rizvi pointed out that in the community where we start our work, first we try to know their knowledge, attitude and then try to change their behaviour which takes time. We went to Malir in Karachi as the EDO Health was interested as there was very high prevalence. Government of Sindh provided us vaccines and drugs. Most of our staff works in the field. We signed an MOU with the Sindh Government to use Lady Health Visitors employed by the Government for this purpose.  We have been using the Religious leaders with the result that now these religious scholars not only welcome us but also help us in continuing the immunization campaign, create awareness in their respective areas. The community has been educated and now when they go to the doctor and in case of injections, they insist and make sure that a new packed disposable syringe is used, Dr. Laila Rizvi remarked.

THF has now also moved to Punjab and established a Center in Lahore which is functioning under the supervision of Prof. Sardar Fakhar Imam Vice Chancellor of Fatima Jinnah Medical University/Ganga Ram Hospital Lahore. In Punjab. Mr. Saeed Allawala said   the situation was worse in the Saraki belt. We are planning to start working in those areas shortly with the help and collaboration of local donors who have been identified. Rawalpindi Center will also start functioning soon, he added. Total number of patients registered for free treatment with The Health Foundation so far are two thousand seven hundred eighty five which includes 2455 of Hepatitis-C and 330 for Hepatitis-B.

According to Mr. Saeed Allawala the Health Foundation is the first civil society NGO which has been given membership of Technical Advisory Committee for Prevention and Management of Hepatitis by the Government of Pakistan. This is for a two years term. After the success of our Hepatitis Free Community project, we have now started adopt a patient programme which cost Rs. 35,000/- With the decrease in price of oral treatment for Hepatitis-C, now it is possible to cure it with six months treatment.  This amount covers not only consultation fee but also all the needed investigations besides provision of drugs. WHO Mr. Saeed Allawala remarked used to give lot of importance to HIV and AIDS but it never realized that Hepatitis was a much bigger public health problem in some countries. Now WHO has also realized this and World Hepatitis Day is also celebrated every year.

Rabies is yet another major public health problem particularly in the rural areas and Dr. Naseem Salahuddin is working in that field. In one our meetings she suggested that we should include Rabies as well but after discussion in THF Board, it was decided that for the time being, we will just concentrate on Hepatitis to ensure sustainability of this programme in the long run.

We are collaborating with World Hepatitis Alliance, WHO, Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific (CEVHAP), GAVI, PMA and Rotary International.  We have strategic alliances and partnership with PMRC, Government of Sindh, and Pakistan CSO Coalition for Health and Immunization (PCCHI), APPNA Institute of Public Health at Jinnah Sindh Medial University Karachi, ENGRO, SECMC and PWFFP in the corporate sector while we are also working in close cooperation with a number of public and private hospitals in the country, Mr. Saeed Allawala remarked.

THF accounts are regularly audited and all donations are Tax Exempted. Those who wish to help The Health Foundation with donations can send their donations to The Health Foundation, United Bank Limited, SITE Branch, and Karachi. Bank Account No.010-5893-2 or contact THF at 021-34320017.

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