About one crore people of the country are infected with Hepatitis B and C viruses, and 9 out of 10 infected people do not know they are carrying the viruses, experts have said.
At a programme, jointly organised by the National Liver Foundation of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Health Reporters Forum in the capital Sunday morning, they called for giving Hepatitis B vaccines to newborn babies within 24 hours of birth.
In Bangladesh, this vaccine is given to infants six weeks after birth.
Prof Mohammad Ali, secretary general of the National Liver Foundation, said Hepatitis B and C viruses silently damage the liver, causing liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
That is why the two viruses are called 'silent killers,' he said.
Hepatitis B and C are major causes of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, added Prof Mohammad Ali, the country's first liver transplant surgeon.
The severity of Hepatitis B and C viruses is highest in children, he said.
He also said 80%-90% of children of infected mothers develop long-term hepatitis.
"About 20%-25% of them die before adulthood," said Prof Mohammad Ali.
He said the treatment of Hepatitis B and C infection is long-term and expensive. So, he put emphasis on awareness building to prevent Hepatitis.
"We have found in our study that the Hepatitis C virus infection rate among the Rohingya population is 18%. We have to work on them too. If not, local people's health will be at stake as well," said Prof Mohammad Ali.
Chief guest Prof ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services, said the prevention of hepatitis infection was of great importance besides treatment.
"Hepatitis B and C viruses spread from the mother to the child, so both mother and child should be vaccinated, which is why institutional delivery is essential. It isn't possible to give vaccines within 24 hours of birth to children who are born at home,'' he said.
It has been decided to allocate Tk10 crore each to Sheikh Russel Gastroliver Institute and Hospital, BIRDEM General Hospital, and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, to undertake liver transplant initiatives, according to Prof ABM Khurshid Alam.
Rashed Rabbi, president of Bangladesh Health Reporters Forum, said awareness raising was the main thing to control hepatitis and both the public and private sector should play a role at all levels, he added.
World Hepatitis Day will be observed on 28 July. This year the theme is "I Can't Wait."