A program to promote standardization of diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C kicked off in Beijing recently, to help patients suffering from the infectious disease, which may cause liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and in some cases, death.

Unlike hepatitis B, awareness of hepatitis C among the public in China is low, so that a massive number of patients are not aware of their status. Their condition will deteriorate gradually and they may infect others, said Wang Guiqiang, head of the department of infectious diseases at Peking University First Hospital, at a news conference on Saturday.

The number of hepatitis C patients in China is estimated to be about 10 million, but only about 200,000 new cases are reported every year. That is because the virus will not cause obvious symptoms in its early stages, and many patients may live with it for two or three decades, until it's too late for treatment, he said.

The program, initiated by the Chinese Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control, plans to establish an experts' guiding network and chronic hepatitis C diagnosis and treatment centers across the nation, optimize transfer treatment systems and enhance training of grassroots medical workers under a unified and scientific guideline. A total of 116 medical institutions — 15 central hospitals and 101 county-level hospitals — will participate in the program.

Wang added the disease is mainly transmitted by blood or body fluids, and screening should be strengthened among high-risk groups, including Chinese who received blood from donators or organ transplantation before 1992, and who had an abortion, eyebrow tattooing, ear piercing or a pedicure in unregulated institutions.

He said most grassroots medical institutions became able to conduct nucleic acid testing during the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which will help with the diagnosis of hepatitis C at such facilities.

The World Health Organization proposed eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat in 2030. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, the disease can be treated by anti-virus drugs, experts said. Three drugs against hepatitis C have been enrolled in China's medical insurance list.

The WHO estimates that about 71 million people worldwide live with hepatitis C. Three scientists who played key roles in the discovery of the hepatitis C virus were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in October.



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