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The Financial Express

Nobel for Hepatitis C virus

| Updated: October 13, 2020 22:26:02


The winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize for Medicine —Reuters file photo The winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize for Medicine —Reuters file photo

Honouring three medical scientists with the Nobel Medicine Prize 2020 for their homing in on the Hepatitis C has been widely acclaimed as a landmark achievement on the part of the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet. Awards like this will, undoubtedly, help the Nobel Committee regain a remarkable amount of its earlier prestige tainted by a couple of its decisions and internal scandals. The three Medicine award winners for this year are Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice along with Briton Michael Houghton. The world's medicinal research fraternity has enough reasons to feel elated over the recognition extended to the trio, whose joint discovery had turned the page on protracted efforts to find a remedy to Hepatitis C, probably the deadliest of the blood-borne hepatitis after Hepatitis A and B. Citing the reason for giving the prestigious award to the three, the jury referred to "their decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world."

According to an estimate of the WHO, there are around 70 million Hepatitis C infections globally, causing around 400,000 deaths each year. The change in the disease's treatment brought about by the discovery has been called immense. As has been observed by the Nobel Committee, following the discovery the availability of the highly sensitive blood tests for the virus has eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world. It has greatly improved global health. Of all gains, the trio's discovery has also expedited the rapid development of anti-viral drugs for Hepatitis C. 

Till now, five types of hepatitis including A, B, C and E have been discovered. Global surveys haven't found any of these types endemic to any region. But the US and some other developed countries have stood out with widespread prevalence of the Hepatitis D. This type of the disease is transmitted through contaminated blood products and unprotected sex. Bangladesh in the recent times has never been completely free of hepatitis. The most common type of this affliction turns out to be Hepatitis E, which is chiefly water-borne. By nature milder in form compared to the blood-borne hepatitis, it is also spread through fecal-oral route. Thanks to these features, Hepatitis E becomes widespread during the yearly floods in the country. Although it remains chronically present in flooded rural areas, the cities and towns also do not remain free of this menace. Hepatitis E virus is widespread in faulty pipes carrying drinking water, and also in mismanaged sewage systems.

Of late, the spike in needle-sharing drug abuse, emergency purchase of blood from unsafe, phony blood banks, sale of blood by addicts at these centres and many other unhealthy practices continue to invite the chronic types of hepatitis. The deadliest of these types has been proved to be Hepatitis B. Apart from the transfusion of unscreened blood at unregistered gynecological hospitals, non-disinfected equipment's use at dental clinics and dingy hair-salons, unsafe sex play a great role in the spread of Hepatitis B virus. The latter is fast becoming a social malady among the urban youths; who are also addicted to needle-based drugs. The health authorities are often seen conducting awareness campaigns mainly on the water-borne Hepatitis E. But, amazingly, they bypass the presence of the deadly types of hepatitis in social segments. The blood-borne hepatitis warrants equal focus.    

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