The brother of an Abu Dhabi resident who died of hepatitis of the liver has urged others to get screened for the disease.
Ramzi Al Mubarak, 34, lost his sister Amira just a month after she was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a disease in which the body's immune system attacks liver cells.
She went into a coma in April and tragically died a few days later, aged 29.
Mr Al Mubarak said doctors told the family that his sister, who had an underlying autoimmune condition, could have survived if the disease had been diagnosed earlier.
“The doctor told us she might not have died if it had been discovered in its early stages,” he said.
“If this could happen to her it could happen to anyone as she lived such a healthy life.
“We want to make sure no family has to go through what we did.”
Amira worked as a business consultant and was loved by all who knew her, Mr Al Mubarak said.
“Amira was everyone’s friend, she was a kind, passionate and pure soul,” he said.
To mark World Hepatitis Day on Wednesday, Mr Al Mubarak shaved his head in solidarity with those who suffer from the disease and to help bring their plight to attention.
The World Health Organisation marks World Hepatitis Day on July 28 every year to raise awareness of the disease, including hepatocellular cancer.
The WHO estimates that one person dies every 30 seconds due to hepatitis-related illnesses globally.
The inflammation of the liver is sometimes the result of a viral infection or damage caused by drinking alcohol, but there are other causes too.
Forms of hepatitis can be caught from an infected person, by sharing dirty needles, having contact with infected body fluids or blood, by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the virus, and also by eating undercooked foods like shellfish.
Dr Amal Premchandra Upadhyay, gastroenterology and hepatology consultant with Aster Hospital in Mankhool, Dubai, said there are A, B, C, D and E strains of hepatitis but it is usually hepatitis B and C that causes chronic infections of the liver.
He said an estimated 257 million globally have hepatitis B and around 887,000 people die each year.
There are nearly 71 million people who live with hepatitis C globally, with an average of 400,000 deaths per year.
Dr Upadhyay also gave a warning about the prevalence of hepatitis C in the UAE, where between 1.3 and 2.9 per cent of the population are infected.
“Hepatitis B and C infections can be prevented by avoiding exposure to needles or sharp objects that might have been exposed to another person’s blood or secretions,” he said.
“Procedures involving needles and skin piercings should only be performed with sterilised equipment in approved centres.
“Chronic hepatitis does not display any symptoms in the early stages so it’s vital people are made aware of the risk it poses and get screened accordingly and any infection is treated at the earliest possible stage.”
He said it was vital to prevent chronic hepatitis, as the consequences could be devastating.
“Patients who have chronic hepatitis are at risk of developing long-term liver diseases and progressive, irreversible liver damage called cirrhosis,” he said.
“Some patients will then also be at risk of developing primary liver cancer.”
Dr Upadhyay said awareness is a key factor in tackling the disease and close family members of patients should get screened.
“It is important to raise awareness among the public as well as physicians so that appropriate populations can be screened and those found to have the infection can be treated,” he said.
“Such awareness can only come through public education and awareness campaigns such as World Hepatitis Day.”