Stakeholders, Experts Call for Efforts to Prevent Hepatitis Spread

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– As WIHA, LWI hold Hepatitis Africa Conference

Stakeholders and experts in the Nigerian healthcare sector, including Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole; Dr (Mrs) Ganiyat Oyeleke, consultant hepatologist, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH); Dr Charles Onyekwere, chief consultant hepatologist, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), and Pharm. (Mrs) Nnena Lan, former chairman, Association of Lady Pharmacists (ALPs), Lagos State Chapter, have stressed the need to create awareness among Nigerians on how to prevent hepatitis B and C, saying there is need to act now  in order to stop people from dying needlessly from the disease.

The health minister who was represented by Dr Olusola Akinola, director, Federal Ministry of Health, at the inauguration of Women in Hepatitis Africa (WIHA) Regional Conference, held at Protea Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, while noting that hepatitis B and C are a major health concern, attributed the high prevalence of hepatitis in the country to low funding of campaigns against the disease.

The minister disclosed that the disease was responsible for 1.34 million deaths in 2016, adding that the disease might be the root cause of several deaths that have been attributed to other causes in the country.

A Cross-section of participants at the Women in Hepatitis Africa (WIHA) Regional Conference, held at Protea Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.

“The Federal Ministry wishes to scale up testing and screening for citizens, as immuno-compromised people have been noted to be more susceptible and these include babies, children between ages one and ten, adults going through therapies like chemotherapy, dialysis, HIV, and TB patients,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, Dr (Mrs) Ganiyat Oyeleke, consultant hepatologist, LUTH, who spoke on the topic: “Challenges in the Control of Hepatitis B in Africa,” noted that the global burden of the disease is becoming a major concern in Africa, saying over two billion individuals have evidence of present or past infection. Sub-Saharan Africa, she said, has the highest burden of hepatitis B and it is responsible for over 80 percent of all liver cancer cases.

Speaking further, the university don said that increased awareness is important in hepatitis B prevention and subsequent elimination, adding that some of the barriers to care among women and children identified include ignorance, cultural misconception, low funding, stigmatisation, high cost of screening and lack of data on its prevalence.

She called on the media to get involved in the fight in order to reach the masses quickly, noting that the masses need to face the reality of the disease and start taking responsibility for their health.

“Getting the masses to do this cannot be achieved without campaign and health education at various levels; so attention must be given to campaign and health education with the goal of helping the masses understand the impact of the disease and subsequently be empowered to take responsibility for their health,” she said.

While speaking at the event, wife of the governor of Lagos State, Mrs Bolanle Ambode, lauded the contributions of Livewell Initiative (LWI) and its subsidiary, Women in Hepatitis Africa (WIHA), for their efforts towards eliminating viral hepatitis in the country through advocacy, screening, vaccination and empowerment of women and children, noting that the different types of hepatitis cause more than one million deaths annually.

Mrs Ambode, who was represented by Mrs Oladunni Ogunbanwo, head of publicity, office of the first lady, while admitting that the challenge of eradicating the disease had remained a tall order for mankind, however added that the global search for strategies to subdue the scourge, especially in women and children, necessitated the conference.

According to the First Lady, the effort put in place by the Livewell Initiative and Women in Hepatitis Africa, by taking up the challenge to confront the scourge through mass awareness, enlightenment and public education to save as many women and children as possible, had paid off with the positive impact on almost two million Nigerians with health literacy and empowerment.

Speaking further, Mrs Ambode, who was the guest of honour at the two-day event,  also advised participants to show more interest in knowing their health status, saying some types of hepatitis are preventable, while some are treatable with proper medications, hence the need for people to be well enlightened about the disease.

“In preventing hepatitis, it is instructive from the awareness we have had over time that we must observe a healthy lifestyle, by moderating alcohol consumption, taking healthy diets, engaging in physical activities, encouraging weight loss and immunisation among others. So, what is important is early knowledge of our health status, as early management of hepatitis or any other disease is very important”, she remarked.

Earlier, in her welcome address, the Vice President, Livewell Initiative (LWI), and founder, Women in Hepatitis Africa (WIHA), Pharm. (Mrs) Bisi Bright, noted that the group was launched in April 2017 with a vision to eliminate viral hepatitis in Africa by the year 2030, through advocacy, screening, vaccination and empowerment, saying it shared same vision with Women in High Places (WIHP), which is a network of global women leaders in medicine, academic research, government, industry, and consumer or patient advocacy, with a common interest in special diseases.

According to her, the idea of forming a similar but an all-encompassing body was nursed by her after returning to Nigeria last year from WIHP conference in New York City, USA, where about 40 women leaders convened to discuss their unique roles in addressing the global challenges of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and liver cancer.

“So, after returning, a few stakeholders were consulted, including the WIHP members abroad, and thereafter, the Women in Hepatitis Africa (WIHA), was formed and inaugurated during the LWI Liver Health Conference in Lagos, Nigeria, she said.”

The conference was attended by dignitaries, which included Dr Olufemi Olugbile, former permanent secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health and chief executive officer, Synthesiz Consultants; Pharm (Mrs) C. E. Akpa, assistant general manager, Pharmacy, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); Mrs Anthonia Bakare, and Dr Gbonju Abiri, consultant physician and emotional health expert, among others.

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