Worried by the alarming rate at which Hepatitis B is spreading among Nigerians, going by the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s data, which is put at 20 million, the Society for Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Nigeria (SOGHIN) in Lagos, has called for enlightenment and mass screening of the populace on the disease.
The body of experts is calling for collaboration to raise awareness and treatment/vaccination on the disease, which they said is more infectious and common than the human immunodeficiency virus infection / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS).
The group further lamented the increase in the number of people with the disease, stating that it is due to the ignorance of the people on its mode of transmission, prevention and treatment.
The doctors, who specialised in hepatitis treatment, defined it as an inflammation of the liver caused by an immune response to the presence of Hepatitis virus in the liver cells. “More than 350 million people globally are infected with chronic Hepatitis B and C, which are the most common causes of liver cancer and liver cirrhosis. That is, one in 12 people worldwide is living with either HBV or HCV”, the group stated.
A member, Dr.Hameed Oladipupo, said Hepatitis virus is transmitted through contact with body fluids e.g. unprotected sex with an infected person and sharing of infected needles or other sharp objects that can break the skin. In addition, babies born to an infected mother have a 90 to 95 per cent chance of contracting Hepatitis B virus (HBV) during childbirth. Fortunately, babies born in Nigeria receive Hepatitis vaccines that protect them from developing full-blown Hepatitis as adults.
Dr Oladipupo said that the biggest obstacle confronting Hepatitis treatment in Nigeria is not the virulence of the disease virus or even the spread of the disease but a lack of awareness among Nigerians of the importance of discovering their Hepatitis status. There is also the issue of not knowing what to do, where to go to, and who to see, when it comes to hepatitis. These anomalies are worrisome, even though they are the least government could do, in ensuring effective Hepatitis B control.
“When patients come to the hospital with yellow eyes, most of the time; that is advanced stage, where the situation cannot be salvaged. The best way to know if one has the hepatitis virus is to go for screening, and if confirmed, obtain treatment.”
The experts said Hepatitis B is a common disease in Nigeria that affects at least 19 million or one in five Nigerians. They called on Nigerians to take steps to prevent contracting the disease, as there are vaccines to prevent its occurrence, instead of coming late to the hospital with advanced stages of hepatitis.
They said increasing awareness of different forms of hepatitis, and how the same can be prevented and treated, would not only check the spread of the disease, but thousands of lives would also be saved.
They said types B and C are of significant concern in Nigeria, since a high proportion of people infected with these viruses may not experience symptoms at the early stage of the disease, and only become aware of their infection, when they are chronically ill.
According to another member, Dr Charles Onyekwere, consultant Physician and Gastroenterologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), even though one out of every five Nigerians has Hepatitis B virus (HBV), which attacks the liver, local and foreign agencies pay more attention to HIV, which affects one out of every 400 Nigerians.
“At one time HIV and AIDS had a prevalence rate of six per cent but local and foreign intervention brought it down to 3.8 per cent today. The Nigerian government should be critical about the state of Hepatitis B management and the need to declare the disease a national emergency, just like HIV was declared in 2001 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration,” said Dr. Onyekwere.
Another member, consultant Physician and Gastroenterologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Dr Remi Oluyemi said, “Hepatitis is an entirely preventable disease, if detected early. Just as people want to discover their HIV status, they should also try to know their Hepatitis status. The screening costs about N1,000 and is available at most hospitals.”
“Without this first-line screening, doctors cannot move to the next stage of treatment, which is determining the quantity of the virus in the blood and prescribing drugs before patients develop full-blown liver cancer or liver cirrhosis. If people don’t get screened, when they come for treatment after symptoms have developed, their liver already has cancer. It’s like medicine after death,” Dr. Oluyemi said.
Representative of SOGHIN, Dr.Hameed Oladipupo