"Hepatitis is a silent killer and is far more easily transmitted than HIV," said leading gastroenterologist Sudhanshu Patwari during the launch of the Gujarat chapter of the National Liver Foundation (NLF) here.
The NLF is a voluntary, non-profit organisation promoting awareness and prevention of liver diseases in India. It offers help, information and support to those suffering from liver diseases and their families.
"Inadequate education and awareness about the disease often results in millions of hepatitis cases going either unreported or being reported at an advanced stage," Patwari said.
"These diseases being silent killers with long gestation periods have so far not attracted the attention of policy makers," said Samir R. Shah, NLF founder trustee and head of the department of hepatology at Global Hospitals in Mumbai.
"Our attempt would be to draw the attention of policy-makers and draw up a comprehensive policy towards addressing the issue," he said.
It is estimated that there are between 25 to 40 million people living with Hepatitis B or C in India.
"There is an urgent need to formulate effective screening, prevention and control strategies. The setting up of the first such state chapter is a step towards that direction," he said.
Shah said similar chapters will be set up across other states.
"Unlike Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and C remain silent and keep affecting the liver for a long period of time before showing any signs. During this silent phase, the person carrying the virus can potentially be a source of infection for others," he said.
Liver diseases are among the top ten killer diseases in India, causing lakhs of deaths every year.
Besides, there are those who suffer from chronic liver problems, needing recurrent hospitalisation and prolonged medical attention, which puts physical, mental, emotional and financial pressure on their families.