UK: Mosques play key role in raising awareness about hepatitis C

UK: Mosques play key role in raising awareness about hepatitis C

A screening programme in mosques, rather than in hospitals, has led to new thinking on how to approach health issues

Mosques across the UK have been ­doubling as makeshift medical centres, with queues of worshippers lining up to have saliva swabs taken, in what could prove to be a model for identifying future health problems. In a unique collaboration, a team from the Royal London hospital in east ­London – led by Graham ­Foster, a professor of hepatology and a leading authority on viral liver disease – embarked five years ago on a mass viral hepatitis screening programme of apparently healthy people of south Asian origin in mosques and community centres.

They screened almost 5,000 people in the mosques of east and west London, as well as in Walsall and Sandwell in the Midlands, and Bradford in West Yorkshire. The results showed that the incidence of viral hepatitis in some parts of the UK Pakistani community is as high as one in 20, with men and women more or less equally affected. The average incidence in the UK is less than 1%, and the condition is treatable if caught early enough.

In the UK, the majority of people ­suffering from viral hepatitis – a potentially fatal condition – are injecting drug users, who contract it as a result of sharing injecting equipment. But the patients found to be dying of liver disease in the Pakistani community had never injected drugs and, as Muslims, had never drunk alcohol – another culprit in liver disease.

Foster found that UK Pakistanis with the virus were usually infected while on visits to Pakistan – often through poor healthcare practices such as the ­re-use of needles by doctors administering injections, vaccinations and blood transfusions. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs there sometimes gather used needles from rubbish dumps, rinse them, repackage them as new, and sell them on to doctors. Many medics are unaware of the risks attached to re-using needles, and levels of awareness about viral hepatitis in Pakistan are low.

"Once we explained things to the people running the mosques, they welcomed us with open arms," Foster says. "It's very unusual for hospital consultants to get involved in community studies, but it was very insightful for us to see people in this setting rather than at the hospital. Seeing how well this approach to health screening has worked has been a defining moment in how to approach health conditions in the future."

Shahid Mursaleen, spokesman for ­Minhaj-ul-Quran, a mosque and Muslim community association in east London, praised Foster's team for the way they have reached out to local people. "In his Friday sermons, our imam has included information about hepatitis and has encouraged people to get tested," ­Mursaleen says. "He says that if people are in good physical health they will reap the spiritual benefits. Some of the people who tested positive have been treated and are well now. It is our duty to work with the NHS on this."


Source: Guardian (English), h/t Islam in Britain

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