New Delhi: Pitching for creating a mass movement to combat viral hepatitis, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla has said the country must join hands to make India free of the disease, as done with polio.
Birla was speaking on Saturday at the launch of a year-long countrywide campaign by the Indian Institute of Liver & Biliary Sciences (ILBS) on the eve of World Hepatitis Day.
"We need a people's movement and mass participation to raise awareness about hepatitis, especially hepatitis B and C, just like we did to fight polio," he said. "I can say that efforts made through this campaign will bear fruit."
The Speaker added he would request all members of Parliament to raise awareness about the disease, its causes and prevention in their respective constituencies.
The World Hepatitis Day is celebrated on July 28 to raise awareness about the disease.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who was present on the dais, also urged people to come together to fight hepatitis.
"Like we did it against polio with a mass and sustained campaign, we can do it against hepatitis too. It may seem to be a herculean task, but it is certainly not impossible," he said.
Underlining the disease's link to alcohol, Vardhan also urged people to start a "new trend" of not serving liquor at weddings, conferences and other public functions, and to "take pride in it".
The campaign -- EMPATHY (Empowered People Against Hepatitis) -- seeks to educate people about viral hepatitis and raise awareness about the discrimination faced by people affected by it.
"With 1.5 lakh deaths annually and almost 60 million Indians affected, viral hepatitis continues to be a serious public health concern," the ILBS said.
"Most of the mortality due to viral hepatitis is attributed to hepatitis B and C, which are also known as silent killers as over 80 percent of the infected people aren't aware of their infection," it said.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who also attended the event, stressed on the need for a sustained campaign to fight hepatitis.
"From my ministry, let me know whatever help is needed, or any legal amendment is needed to ensure no such patient is discriminated against or denied any job. We support this cause," he said.
Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan and noted jurist Fali Nariman were also present on the occasion.