'500,000 Malaysians likely have hepatitis C'

Health minister says hepatitis B cases also up, and stresses need for more screening

KUALA LUMPUR • About half a million Malaysians are believed to have hepatitis C, said Health Minister S. Subramaniam, adding that many were unaware they had been infected with the virus because of a lack of awareness about the disease.

If left untreated, hepatitis C could be fatal, or lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis.

Datuk Seri Subramaniam said that incidence rates for the disease had increased from 3.71 per cent in 2009 to 8.57 per cent last year, reported the New Straits Times yesterday.

Hepatitis B infections were also on the rise, according to Dr Subramaniam. Although all newborns have received free hepatitis B vaccinations since 1989, he said, incidence rates had increased from 2.13 per cent in 2009 to 12.6 per cent last year.

The incidence rate refers to the number of new cases per population at risk in a given time period.

"The hepatitis B immunisation shot has proved to be somewhat effective, with a 95 per cent coverage rate. Adults might want to get booster doses of the hepatitis B vaccine," said Dr Subramaniam.

He said the increased prevalence of chronic hepatitis B and C meant more people would end up with cirrhosis or liver cancer.

More Malaysians need to undergo health screening, he told reporters, stressing the need to step up efforts to identify patients at risk of the blood-borne virus.

LIVER DISEASES ON THE RISE

The disease has shown a drastic increase (in the number of cases) globally as well as in our country because of lifestyle, namely obesity, cholesterol, high lipid content in the blood and office-bound workers without fitness exposure.

HEALTH MINISTER S. SUBRAMANIAM, on the sharp growth in the number of non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases.

"Screening for hepatitis C at various levels needs to be enhanced, and treatment prioritised for patients who are at higher risk of developing advanced liver disease," he said.

He added that Malaysia had experienced a phenomenal increase in the number of non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases as well.

"The disease has shown a drastic increase (in the number of cases) globally as well as in our country because of lifestyle, namely obesity, cholesterol, high lipid content in the blood and office-bound workers without fitness exposure," he said.

Dr Subramaniam warned that certain cases could turn more serious and require liver transplants.

He said the government is looking at how to make the cost of treatment affordable.

"The government is collaborating with international agencies to create a new formula that can reduce the cost of hepatitis C treatment," he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.

"Now, the cost is RM30,000 (S$9,550) to RM40,000 per person for 12 weeks of treatment, and we hope to bring it down to RM1,000. If we can do that, it would be a major success. We are in the process and we hope, in one or three years' time, we can make that available."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline ''500,000 Malaysians likely have hepatitis C''. Print Edition | Subscribe