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Newham’s Pakistani community urged to learn about ‘silent’ epidemic

11:10 22 July 2014

The borough’s Pakistani community is being urged to learn about the ‘silent’ epidemic of hepatitis B and C that can be fatal if untreated.

Research suggests that 1 in 20 people born in Pakistan and living in the UK has chronic viral hepatitis but many people are untested due to a lack of awareness by community members as well as GPs and medical staff. The viruses are often ‘silent,’ with people showing no symptoms until an advanced stage, but are treatable and preventable.

Maslaha, which translates from the Arabic as ‘for the common good’, with funding from Barts Charity, has launched the website understandhepbandc.org with films in English and Urdu as part of a campaign to encourage British Pakistanis to understand, prevent and get tested for hepatitis B and C. The films combine medical and cultural references to encourage early testing and decrease stigma. As hepatitis B is controllable, and hepatitis C can be curable, a blood test could save lives.

Yunus Dudhwala, imam and head of chaplaincy at Barts Health NHS Trust, said: “Ramadan is ending and we’re celebrating Eid; many people have visited family and friends in Pakistan during this time, so it is especially important to ask your GP for a blood test. Remember, you may also have contracted the virus up to 30 years ago and not be aware.”

Dr Zuhair Zarifa, chair of NHS Newham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and a Newham GP, said: “If you are at risk of developing hepatitis B and C, it’s important to listen to your body. If you notice a small change to your health, like feeling sick and tired, lose your appetite, or if your skin and eyes turn yellow, please book an appointment with your GP practice.”

Globally, as many people die from chronic viral hepatitis as die from HIV/AIDS. It is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a ‘global public health problem,’ the viruses can badly damage the liver, and can be fatal, leading to liver cirrhosis and cancer. July 28 is World Hepatitis Day to raise awareness and encourage action.

Among the British Pakistani community, hepatitis B is most commonly transferred at birth from infected mothers, and hepatitis C is most commonly transferred through poor medical and dental practices in Pakistan and other developing countries. This includes unsterile injections, transfusions, vaccinations, haircuts, and nose and ear piercing. For Muslims, care must also be taken around shaving babies’ hair, undertaken seven days after birth, and also boys’ circumcision.

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