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Staff shortage remains a bottleneck in viral hepatitis services

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Staff shortage remains a bottleneck in viral hepatitis services

SHOBHA SHUKLA, BOBBY RAMAKANT - CNS

Dr Rosie Rajkumari, Manipur State Nodal Officer, National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme, Government of India
Dr Rosie Rajkumari, Manipur State Nodal Officer, National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme, Government of India
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Indian state of Manipur, hard-hit by HIV and hepatitis both, should be providing free screening, diagnosis, and treatment services for hepatitis B and hepatitis C. But despite commendable progress in recent years, acute staff shortage is crippling the programme implementation.

National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme was launched in July 2018 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, under the umbrella of National Health Mission, with the aim of providing free screening, testing, diagnosis, and treatment. "We began implementation of this programme in Manipur in July 2019, around World Hepatitis Day observance, with the setting up of two Model Treatment Centres in Imphal - one at Jawahar Lal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JLNIMS), and the other at Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS)," said Dr Rosie Raj Kumari, State Nodal Officer of the National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme, Manipur. Dr Rosie was speaking with CNS (Citizen News Service) around the 24th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2022).

There is a hepatitis treatment centre in seven out of 16 districts of Manipur (the remaining nine districts are newly created and yet to have a district hospital). These centres were screening for both, hepatitis B and C, but providing treatment only for hepatitis C. From July 2021, hepatitis B treatment is also being rolled out from two model treatment centres in Imphal, informed Dr Rosie.

Getting confirmatory viral load test for hepatitis continues to be a challenge as it is only available at two model treatment centres in Manipur state's capital city of Imphal. Many people find it difficult to go to Imphal for a range of reasons. More embarrassing is the fact that even though there are TrueNat machines to do viral load tests at the district level, no trained staffs available to manage these machines.

Dr Rosie's team thought of transporting samples for testing from districts or far-flung areas to Imphal-based laboratories but even that is a challenge because of lack of sub-zero temperature refrigeration systems that are required to safely transport these samples.

"Health department is trying to help get us more staff. Once we have dedicated human power to manage TrueNat machines then we will commence with viral load testing at the district level," confirmed Dr Rosie. "RT-PCR test is also available but since we do not have that big a number of client load for hepatitis-related RT-PCR services, these are limited to the two Model Treatment Centres at RIMS and JLNIMS in Imphal."

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