#MYXHEPC kicks off on World Hepati­tis Day

A dig­i­tal arts and so­cial me­dia-driven pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion project on hepati­tis C.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Health - By VER­NON ADRIAN EMUANG For more in­for­ma­tion on the project, visit www. myxhepc.com, www.art­see.net, or look for #MYXHEPC on Face­book, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram.

TO­MOR­ROW is World Hepati­tis Day. Know­ing what hepati­tis is about can pre­vent pre­ma­ture suf­fer­ing and death from liver dis­eases, which are af­flict­ing more and more peo­ple th­ese days.

Hence, as des­ig­nated by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO), every year on July 28, med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, health work­ers, pa­tient or­gan­i­sa­tions, civil so­ci­ety, in­dus­try and ac­tivists all work to­gether to boost the global pro­file of vi­ral hepati­tis.

Vi­ral hepati­tis is one of the lead­ing causes of death glob­ally, ac­count­ing for 1.34 mil­lion deaths per year – which is as many as HIV/ AIDS, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis or malaria.

To­gether, hepati­tis B and hepati­tis C cause 80% of liver can­cer cases in the world.

Here in Malaysia, it is es­ti­mated that there are about 500,000 Malaysians in­fected with hepati­tis C, rep­re­sent­ing 2.5% of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

The preva­lence is even higher among peo­ple who in­ject drugs (PWIDs).

Hepati­tis C is a de­vi­ous and dan­ger­ous dis­ease be­cause it is asymp­to­matic – a con­di­tion that shows no symp­toms, some­times for as long as 30 years.

What this means is that peo­ple in­fected with the virus will of­ten ap­pear to be healthy and un­know­ingly spread the dis­ease to oth­ers through all that time.

Stud­ies have shown that by the time those in­fected by hepati­tis C ac­tu­ally do be­come ill and present a se­ri­ous liver con­di­tion caused by it, the virus would have taken a se­vere and usu­ally ir­re­versible toll.

The dev­as­tat­ing out­come of hepati­tis C in­fec­tion can be fi­bro­sis, at the cir­rhotic stage, or even liver can­cer.

By then it would be too late to re­v­erse the con­di­tion, with a liver trans­plant be­ing one pos­si­ble so­lu­tion, or suf­fer­ing and death pretty much im­mi­nent.

In ad­di­tion, there is the pos­si­bil­ity that the pa­tient may have un­know­ingly in­fected count­less oth­ers in the pre­ced­ing years or, worse yet, in the decades be­fore.

In con­junc­tion with World Hepati­tis Day 2017 to­mor­row, the Malaysian AIDS Coun­cil (MAC) to­gether with Coali­tion PLUS and the “artivism” or­gan­i­sa­tion, Art­see Net­works, will be launch­ing a dig­i­tal arts and so­cial me­dia-driven pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion project “co­de­named” #MYXHEPC.

#MYXHEPC can be de­ci­phered as ei­ther “Malaysia with­out Hepati­tis C” or “Malaysians against Hepati­tis C”, said Art­see co-di­rec­tor, Michael Xavier Voon.

The project com­prises the #MYXHEPC Men­tor­ship phase, con­ducted by lead­ing prac­ti­tion­ers from the cre­ative in­dus­tries, such as graphic de­sign, dig­i­tal me­dia, video and film-mak­ing.

Th­ese men­tors will con­duct screen­ings and dis­cus­sions, fo­rums and work­shops on their re­spec­tive skills, bun­dled to­gether with a short pre­sen­ta­tion on the hepati­tis C sit­u­a­tion in Malaysia and how this might in­spire cre­ative works.

This is then fol­lowed up by the #MYXHEPC Clever New Me­dia Con­test where those who had at­tended the men­tor­ing talks, screen­ings and work­shops, as well as any­one in­ter­ested, can par­tic­i­pate and sub­mit their en­tries to win cash prizes.

Voon ex­plained that en­tries could be in the form of a poster, a video, or a vi­ral-friendly meme, which could even be an­i­mated for a spe­cific cat­e­gory.

Film­maker and the man billed as the Fa­ther of Malaysian An­i­ma­tion, Has­san Muthalib, is one of the cre­ative lu­mi­nar­ies lead­ing the panel.

The project has been con­ceived for the dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion, which is the young and even the old who are drawn to us­ing dig­i­tal tools and apps.

Pub­lic re­sponse will gen­er­ate dig­i­tal con­tent about or in­volv­ing hepati­tis C, which will in turn drive pub­lic aware­ness and con­ver­sa­tions.

Shangeetha Thiru­mayni, se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at MAC helm­ing the project, was up­beat about #MYXHEPC, hope­ful that “it can heighten aware­ness of hepati­tis C, how to check its spread, and even in recog­nis­ing its ‘hid­den’ bur­den, which is the dev­as­tat­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tions and neg­a­tive im­pact that hepati­tis C will have on lives, health­care sys­tems and gov­ern­ment fi­nances, di­rectly as well as in­di­rectly, if we do not ad­dress its grow­ing preva­lence”.

One fright­en­ing fact about hepati­tis C is that the virus is known to sur­vive out­side the body, some­times up to 60 hours, so this is why skin tat­too and acupunc­ture equip­ment, ra­zors, tooth­brushes and nail-clip­pers, not to men­tion sy­ringes, if in­dis­crim­i­nately shared with­out ster­il­i­sa­tion or in­ad­e­quately dis­in­fected are likely path­ways of trans­mis­sion.

The good news is hepati­tis C can be treated us­ing DAAs (di­rect act­ing an­tivi­rals), which thank­fully has a cure rate of more than 90%.

How­ever, th­ese DAAs are very ex­pen­sive, but it is to the Malaysian gov­ern­ment’s credit that it is work­ing to­wards ob­tain­ing th­ese drugs for RM1,000 in three years’ time.

Mean­while, cre­at­ing wide­spread aware­ness on hepati­tis C is an es­sen­tial first step to stem its rise.

Malaysian AIDS Coun­cil Pres­i­dent, Bakhtiar Tal­hah, ex­plained, “Given that HIV and hepati­tis C have over­lap­ping modes of trans­mis­sion, co-in­fec­tion is a sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic health con­cern.

“With 29 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in car­ry­ing out col­lab­o­ra­tive com­mu­nity based pro­grammes with the Health Min­istry, we be­lieve that we can take ad­van­tage of our cur­rent en­abling mech­a­nisms, which sup­port the na­tional strate­gic plan to end HIV by 2030.

“Th­ese mech­a­nisms can be used to work with our 46 part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions across the coun­try, which could carry out the hepati­tis C com­mu­nity based test­ing in reach­ing out to the key pop­u­la­tion that would even­tu­ally cre­ate aware­ness on hepati­tis C among the risk pop­u­la­tions and masses.

“De­mand for a test if you think you are from the high-risk group cat­e­gory and ed­u­cate oth­ers on hepati­tis C,” urged Bakhtiar.

Those most at high-risk for hepati­tis C are those who had a blood trans­fu­sion be­fore 1994, in­jected recre­ational drugs, have a his­tory of nee­dle-stick in­jury, those with tat­toos or had un­ster­ile acupunc­ture and chil­dren whose mother are hepati­tis C pa­tients.

Oth­ers who should be vig­i­lant are those with pro­mis­cu­ous sex­ual lifestyles, those who snort co­caine us­ing shared equip­ment, and those who have shared tooth­brushes, ra­zors and other per­sonal items with a known hepati­tis C car­rier.

In look­ing for­ward to the roll-out of #MYXHEPC, Khalil Elouardighi, Coali­tion PLUS Ad­vo­cacy Di­rec­tor, said, “Since 2016, Coali­tion PLUS, thanks to the sup­port of UNITAID, has cre­ated a net­work of civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions based in seven mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, in­clud­ing Malaysia, to work in favour of the re­moval of the bar­ri­ers to ac­cess to hepati­tis C care: di­ag­nos­tics and treat­ment prices, dis­crim­i­na­tion of key pop­u­la­tions and lack of aware­ness.”

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