As a liver surgeon and the son of someone living with hepatitis B, Dr Vivek Shanmugam has greater insight into viral hepatitis than most. Leading the way in how medical professionals can help to drive action for the elimination of viral hepatitis, Vivek also runs Chennai Liver Foundation (CFL), a voluntary, non-profit organisation which aims to promote awareness about liver health, with his father Dr R.P. Shanmugam.
“With governmental backing anything can be done. Everyone should understand that unity is strength, so many NGOs should join hands along with governments and private agencies and form a mass movement much like NOhep is doing”
Based in Chennai, India, CFL provides medical help, support and information to the local medical community and Chennai’s general population about the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of liver related diseases. By encouraging individuals to participate in and be alert of their own healthcare, CFL makes lasting changes to their lives.
Like many other non-profit organisations, CFL has an intensely personal backstory. In the early 1990s RP’s brother died of hepatitis B, hitting home the need to eliminate this killer disease. Tragedy struck again when RP, himself, also contracted hepatitis B after an accidental blood splash when treating one of his patients. The infection caused irreversible damage to his liver meaning he had to undergo a liver transplant 15 years later. After seeing the hurdles that even he a liver specialist had to overcome for care and treatment, RP vowed to do whatever he could to help families less fortunate by founding CFL.
It is clear that RP is Vivek’s inspiration and today he co-runs CFL with his father, playing a major role in the foundation’s activities. In recent times, CFL has held radio talks across Chennai, successfully rolled out their ‘Catching them young’ project raising awareness of the hepatitis B vaccine amongst children and hosted public walkathons throughout the streets of Chennai with placards and name boards sharing messages about hepatitis.
Vivek’s primary aims for CFL are to run regular screening and vaccination camps and to raise awareness of viral hepatitis in Chennai and the surrounding areas, ever following his instrumental belief that education and awareness will slowly but surely bring down incidences of this disease. He also holds regular meetings with local GPs stressing the importance of early diagnosis of hepatitis B. Hosting free screening sessions and vaccinations, CFL also educates medical professionals on how to perform these activities, arming them with the skills to continue this work. To ensure a good turnout at such events, CFL also makes sure to engage local welfare groups to help spread the message.
For Vivek, CFL’s greatest success has been these mass community screenings. To date, CFL has screened over 25,000 people, finding close to 400 people living with with hepatitis B or C greatly helping efforts to find the missing millions. In most cases appropriate treatment has been initiated, preventing further complications and saving lives.
Despite CFL’s successes, they still must overcome many barriers. Given the great issues surrounding India’s healthcare policy and that there is no registry recording hepatitis prevalence, Vivek is certain that India’s hepatitis burden is under reported. India also has a mammoth population with a great number of people living in rural areas far away from hospitals, meaning they instead opt for alternatives medicines. What’s more, there is no government policy on viral hepatitis and fear of discrimination is rife. As a result, even when organisations like CFL offer free screening sessions and vaccinations many people still do not come forward.
Vivek is, however, hopeful for the future. He believes that with government backing and collaboration between all stakeholders we can eliminate this disease, stressing the important role medical professionals, like him, have to play in our achieving this. As he highlights, civil society and activist groups need guidelines for testing and treatments from healthcare professionals. In our digital age, he also believes we should use technology to embark on novel ways to reach people. Embracing this, CFL are now building an app to provide continuous medical education and conversations between medical professionals. Innovative organisations like CFL are exactly what we need to ensure the elimination of this global killer. Thank you Vivek and RP for all your incredible work!
Find out more about Chennai Liver Foundation by visiting their website here, or find them on Facebook here and Twitter here. You can also read CFL’s recent report here on prevalence of hepatitis B and C infection in Southern India.
Are you are a medical professional inspired by Vivek’s work? Why not download The NOhep Guide for Medical Professionals to learn more about the 5 principles of a NOhep Medical Visionary to see what you can do to help drive action too.