There are many medical problems which present dramatically. Think of broken legs, of the various types of infections, etc. Often, the tests and x-rays done just confirm what both patient and physician already knew. Other diseases can affect a person quietly and progressively, such as occurs in certain forms of chronic hepatitis. This can potentially lead to problems including liver failure and liver cancer. We are fortunate in our country to have the availability of ways to diagnosis and follow chronic hepatitis. Many of the tests are part of routine healthcare and help to diagnose hepatitis at an early stage when treatments can be most beneficial. In resource-limited countries, such diseases can progress insidiously to a serious and advanced stage in the absence of any way to diagnose them.
Today is World Hepatitis Day. We are blessed in our country with a long list of ways to keep hepatitis from harming us. There are vaccines to prevent some types, knowledge of how the various types of hepatitis are spread and how to avoid contracting it, as well as a growing number of medical and surgical treatments for those who develop hepatitis and it’s complications.
So what do physicians in mission lands do about hepatitis? What do you do to deal with a disease you can not diagnose early? How do you prevent hepatitis when vaccines are not available? How do you treat people with hepatitis when specific medical treatments and surgery are not available? You take the time and effort to educate your patients well about how hepatitis is spread and ways to avoid contracting it. The best, and often the only, way to not be harmed by hepatitis in resource-limited countries is to not contract it.
The World Health Organization has established concrete goals for reduction in the transmission of and death from hepatitis in coming years. Until hepatitis takes its place in the museum of diseases which once afflicted humanity, prevention remains the best and often the only medicine.
Dr. Tim Cavanagh