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I’m Alive Only On 25% Of My Liver: Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh Bachchan, moving the needle in the battle against Hepatitis

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I’m Alive  Only On 25% Of My Liver: Amitabh Bachchan

In 2010, Amitabh Bachchan created a stir in the media when he revealed he had liver cirrhosis. Culprit? Not the usual alcohol (Bachchan is a teetotaler) but hepatitis B, a chronic liver disease he has been suffering from for the last two decades. And on Monday, he made the startling revelation that more than 75% of his liver has been destroyed by the disease.

Bachchan senior was addressing the media at the launch of the hepatitis campaign of the Union Health Ministry in association with UNICEF. He recalled how he contracted the disease:

After my accident on the sets of Coolie, I was infused with the blood of about 200 donors. More than 60 bottles of blood were injected into my system. The ‘Australian antigen hepatitis B’ had just been detected and at that time, blood screening for hepatitis was not done. One of my donors was carrying the hepatitis B virus which entered my system. I continued to function normally till the year 2000 and almost 18 years after the accident. In a routine medical check-up, I was told my liver was infected and I lost 75% of it. So I am standing here today, you are looking at a person who is surviving with just 25% of his liver. That is the bad part. The good part is that you can survive with even 12%.
Amitabh Bachchan

The superstar was all praise for the medical facilities and expertise in India and said they were second to none when it comes to treating patients infected with tuberculosis and hepatitis.

(Photo: Yogen Shah, altered by The Quint)

India has over 40 million hepatitis B infected patients (second only to China) and constitutes about 15% of the entire pool of hepatitis B in the world.

(Photo: Yogen Shah, altered by The Quint)
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India is Woefully Under-Equipped To Handle the Hepatitis Crisis

Hepatitis B is the most severe type of hepatitis; 4 out of 5 times if left untreated, chronic hepatitis B causes liver cancer or cirrhosis (Photo: iStock)
Snapshot
  • WHO: Hepatitis is 3 times more infectious than HIV.
  • WHO: 4-6 crore Indians get infected from Hepatitis; a lakh succumb to the disease every year.
  • India did not have facilities to screen blood for Hepatitis till 1996. Many people unknowingly got infected before that.
  • Health Ministry: 40% infants are still not vaccinated against Hepatitis B & C.

According to the World Health Organisation, around one lakh Indians die of hepatitis every year. Four to six crore people in the country are carriers of this viral disease, and most of them are unaware of their infection, putting them at serious risk of developing liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Yet the government doesn’t even have a hepatitis policy or an eradication goal.

India did not have proper facilities to screen blood for the hepatitis virus till 1996. A vast majority of those infected with hepatitis C are baby boomers, according to the WHO. Most like Bachchan, were infected decades ago, and many got it from blood transfusions that they received before 1996, when donated blood was not screened for the virus.

It takes close to two months between the blood test and the manifestation of the virus in the sample. But many labs and hospitals transfuse blood before these two months.
Vinay Shetty, Vice President, Think Foundation

Viral hepatitis is three times more infectious than HIV and has surpassed HIV, malaria and tuberculosis as a leading cause of death from an infectious disease. And yet, the government does not have a national policy on hepatitis or a goal to eradicate it.

40% infants not vaccinated against hepatitis A and B: Both these strains have a preventive vaccine under the government’s immunisation programme; yet according to the health ministry’s own records, only 60% newborns were vaccinated against hepatitis B in 2014. With no national policy for screening, zero awareness for recognising symptoms and early diagnosis, this is a ticking time bomb.

Hepatitis deaths are not reported to a central agency: No government agency maintains the record of hepatitis deaths. The figures which are available are estimates by the WHO based on the data reported at the regional/district level. The actual number of hepatitis cases might be much higher.

International funding for hepatitis is minuscule. Life saving drugs are so expensive and inaccessible that not being HIV positive has become a cruel public health irony.

Lack of testing facilities: The WHO says there are few labs to test the virus in India and the available test is only 80% precise.

Related Read: Expensive to Treat, Hepatitis Could Soon Be an Epidemic in India

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