World Hepatitis Day 2021: Impact of COVID-19 on People Living with Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B, a vaccine-preventable illness, is believed to impact 4 crore individuals in India, whereas Hepatitis C affects 0.6-1.2 crore people, the vast majority of whom are ignorant of their condition. Chronic hepatitis B can gradually damage the liver, raising the chances of severe liver disorders such as cirrhosis (liver scarring) and cancer.

Hepatitis B is the major cause of liver cancer globally, and the second greatest cause of human cancer after tobacco. Although anybody can have hepatitis B, Asian and Pacific Islander people are disproportionately affected.

People with hepatitis B have encountered significant problems in getting medical care and treatment during the COVID-19 crisis, owing to delayed consultations and de-prioritization of regular hepatitis or primary care treatments.

Individuals have not only had to adapt to telemedicine, but they have also experienced problems receiving antiviral renewals and mail-order delivery interruptions. Others have reported difficulty understanding particular health information on COVID-19 for people with liver illness, as well as questions about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines for individuals with hepatitis B and liver disease.

Community-based organisations (CBOs) that provide frontline public health services such as HBV education, screening, and immunisation have also had a difficult year. According to a 2020 study conducted by Hep B United, over two-thirds of CBOs offering viral hepatitis services got insufficient or no financing to adapt during the crisis. Many community-based organisations were unable to provide hepatitis testing, immunisation, or community outreach, and more than half were forced to lay off employees.

Despite these obstacles, organisations have adapted their resources and activities to the new situation. Among the innovative tactics utilised to adapt include enhanced social media presence for HBV awareness, contactless HBV lab testing, customer outreach and follow-up via phone calls and email, provision of HBV materials accompanying COVID-19 teaching, and conducting drive-through educational events.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is the determination, enthusiasm, and tenacity of under-resourced CBOs to persist in the face of adversity and continue their goal to eradicate viral hepatitis.

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