Asit Chakraborty has chronic hepatitis C. He was diagnosed during a routine health check in 2007, but believes he acquired the virus from a blood transfusion during a gall bladder operation more than 20 years ago. Tests showed that not only was he HCV positive, he was in an advanced stage of liver cirrhosis, and needed a transplant.
It’s thought that between 40 and 60 million people are infected with either hepatitis B or C, and around 250,000 die of viral hepatitis every year in India. Estimates vary because so many people don’t have access to healthcare – 70% of the population lives in rural areas where hepatitis screening is limited.
Asit looked to Dr. Abhijit Chowdhury, a specialist in hepatology in Asit’s home city of Kolkata, for advice. Dr. Chowdhury is co-founder of the Liver Foundation, West Bengal, a non-profit working to raise awareness of liver disease in India. The Foundation also supports health clinics in rural areas of West Bengal where there are no other services, and where Dr. Chowdhury often spends his weekends seeing patients.
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At the time of Asit’s diagnosis, there were no liver transplant centers near Kolkata, the second largest city in India. Severely ill patients such as Asit had no choice but to travel to Delhi for care, a challenging journey of more than 15 hours by train.
Asit and his wife made this trip more than 15 times for his transplant and associated treatment, having to stay for weeks at a time, away from their family and incurring significant expenses in addition to the costs of care.
Stories such as Asit’s inspired Dr. Chowdhury, Dr. Partha Sarathi Mukherjee and their colleagues at the Liver Foundation to build a new health facility in Kolkata. “We don’t wish to see another Asit, in pain because of the lack of facilities, because of the lack of money, in this part of the country. He remains our inspiration,” says Dr. Chowdhury.
In 2015, the Liver Foundation partnered with Gilead to build the Indian Institute of Liver and Digestive Sciences in Kolkata. From now on, patients won’t need to travel almost 1,000 miles for treatment, says Dr. Chowdhury. “We won’t need to hear the stories of Asit anymore, and everyone in this part of the country, in eastern India, will now know that there is an Institute where they can get the best of care, at a cost which they can afford.”