Published On: Mon, Sep 16th, 2013

Winning the fight against hepatitis

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 On July 28 of this year, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to celebrate the World Hepatitis Day. The day was established in 2010 by the World Health Assembly to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis, as well as the disease it causes.

The theme of the 2013 World Hepatitis Day, “This is hepatitis.Know it. Confront it,” is a continuation of previous campaigns. Its objectiveis to reiterate the fact that hepatitis remains a serious health challenge that most people are ignorant of.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver, whichcould eventually lead to cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.  “These viruses constitute a major global health risk, with around 240 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis B and around 150 million people chronically infected with hepatitis C,” says WHO.

The goal of the World Hepatitis Day–“Movingfrom awareness to commitment and taking action to address the “silent killer’ of viral hepatitis” – is designed to help focus on specific actions, such as: strengtheningprevention, screening and control of viral hepatitis and its related diseases; increasing hepatitis B vaccine coverage and integration of the vaccine into national immunisationprogrammes; as well as coordinating a global response to hepatitis.

The WHO lamented that although the burden of diseases related to hepatitis infection is very high, in most countries, the problem has not been addressed in a comprehensive way for many reasons.  These reasons, the global health body says, include the fact that most people do not develop any symptoms when they become infected and they remain so for decades, until they develop chronic liver disease.

The WHO also bemoaned the fact that viral hepatitis also places a heavy burden on the health care system because of the high costs of treatment of liver cancer and liver failure from cirrhosis.

It is our expectation that stakeholders in health care would see the World Hepatitis Day 2013 as an opportunity to take serious action on this health challenge, especially hepatitis B, which is said to be deadlier than HIV/AIDS.

Hepatitis B, according to experts, can be prevented with vaccination.Thus it is imperative to focus on ensuring that more Nigerians are vaccinated against the infection.

It is good to note that hepatitis B is already included in the vaccination programmefor children in the country. It must, however, be pointed out that, though there is a vaccine to protect against hepatitis B, there is none yet for hepatitis C. Consequently, it is important for the government and other stakeholders in the health care sector to focus on enlightenment and education of Nigerians on how to prevent this deadly infection.

Nigerians should be educated that taking precautionary measures, such as ensuring adequate human waste disposal, and avoiding the consumption/ingestion of contaminated food and water, can go a long way in protecting them from the disease.

We also call on the Federal Government to seriously consider adopting the World Health Assembly resolution that mandates a comprehensive approach to prevention and control of viral hepatitis.This is because there are quite a number of strategies that can be adopted for the prevention and control of viral hepatitis in different settings.

For instance, it is necessary to ensure there is a provision for health workers in the country to be immunised against hepatitis B, because they are a potential source of risk to the patients they are treating.  Right now, despite the fact that they are occupationally exposed to the infection, there is no provision for them to be immunised in any immunisationprogramme.

Hepatitis is a serious public health challenge that is not getting the appropriate attention it deserves.  The Nigerian government must, as a matter of urgency, find the political will to confront this global killer that the World Hepatitis Alliance says has continued to be undiagnosed, untreated and too often ignored.

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Winning the fight against hepatitis