A recent survey found that a majority of doctors specializing in liver diseases agree that Korea’s national health check should include hepatitis C immunity tests.
The government is now conducting a pilot project to prevent hepatitis C in only 35 cities and provinces where the liver disease’s prevalence rate is high.
The Korean Association for the Study of the Liver surveyed 119 physicians specializing in liver diseases in June and found that 89 percent of the respondents said the government’s pilot project was not useful. Almost all of them, or 99 percent, said it was “necessary” to include hepatitis C immunity test in the national health check-up.
The doctors in the survey also cited “expanding the health insurance benefits to latest treatment for hepatitis C” (43 percent), “raising public awareness of the disease” (34 percent), and “enhancing management of infected cases” (24 percent as the most pressing issues to tackle.
Not only medical doctors but ordinary people agreed on the need to test hepatitis C virus as part of a national health check.
In April and May, the association surveyed 600 adults who were having health checks in six cities – Seoul, Incheon, Daejeon, Daegu, Gwangju, and Busan.
About 80 percent of the respondents said they were not aware that hepatitis C immunity test was not part of the state health check. When asked if the national health check should include hepatitis C virus test, 82 percent said, “Yes.” Their response signals that the government should push a policy to diagnose and actively treat hepatitis C infection.
The Korean public has little knowledge about major transmission routes of hepatitis C virus.
Hepatitis C viruses are transmitted mainly through blood transfusions, re-use of injections and needles or vertically infected to newborns from infected mothers. However, the respondents mostly thought that the viruses spread through sharing of foods and plates.
The respondents were not well aware of the cause of liver cancer or hepatocirrhosis. They chose alcohol intake (79 percent) as the primary cause, followed by smoking (48 percent), hepatitis B (39 percent) and obesity (35 percent, answering the plural response question. Only 27 percent said hepatitis C was the primary cause.
The respondents had unusually low awareness on hepatitis C. Thirty-nine percent said they did not know about transmission routes of the disease. More than half of them were unaware that hepatitis C has no vaccine. Although treatment can cure the disease, only 44 percent of the respondents were aware of it.
KASL said Korea should designate the “Day of Liver” as a national memorial day to raise the awareness of hepatitis.
“Since the KASL’s naming of Day of Liver in 2000, we have continuously held a campaign dealing with various aspects of liver diseases to raise public awareness. But Korean people are still not well aware that hepatitis B and C are the major causes of liver cancer and hepatocirrhosis,” said Byun Kwan-soo, president of the KASL’s committee. “We must ensure that hepatitis C test is done as a national health check to diagnose and treat the disease actively.
Many experts in liver diseases are sharing this view, as shown in the survey,” he added.
Professor Choi Moon-seon of Sungkyunkwan University’s College of Medicine also said it was “everyone’s goal to eradicate hepatitis viruses by 2030.”
“We should include hepatitis C test in the national health checkups as well as enhance PR for the general public and medical workers,” Choi said. “Designating the Day of Liver as a national day will help provide additional momentum our efforts.”
<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>