TOYIN ADEBAYO, ABUJA
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti has hinted that of the 71 million Africans with chronic viral hepatitis, 300 people sadly lose their lives daily from liver cancer and other complications related to hepatitis B and C infections.
She gave this hint in her message to commemorate this year World Hepatitis Day and to increase awareness of this public health threat.
She noted that, this year’s theme is “Hep Free Future” highlighting the importance of preventing mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B and scaling-up prevention, testing and treatment to control hepatitis B and cure hepatitis C.
According to her; “Hepatitis B comprises 85% of the hepatitis burden in the WHO African Region. The most vulnerable time for infection is in the first month of life, and this can be prevented with hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination in the first 24 hours of life. Achieving at least 90% coverage in the Region, would prevent over 1.5 million new infections and 1.2 million deaths from liver cancer by 2035.
“Hepatitis B can go undetected for years and have devastating consequences. For example, Ansah, a 25-year old Ghanaian woman, was diagnosed with hepatitis B and liver cancer during antenatal care. Her baby was protected with hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination administered within 24 hours of birth, but Ansah’s future is uncertain. Her family said: “We did not know that the infection could be so silent and the consequences so grave”.
She further stated that, despite the low cost of the hepatitis B birth-dose vaccine, only 13 African countries have introduced it, far short of the target of 25 countries by 2020. So far, 15 countries have launched national hepatitis plans, and Rwanda and Uganda have national testing and treatment programmes for hepatitis.
While adding that, WHO is working with countries and partners to accelerate action towards a 90% reduction of new hepatitis B and C infections and a 65% reduction of deaths by 2030. Achieving these goals requires urgent introduction and scaling-up of hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination and leveraging the HIV and syphilis infrastructure to prevent mother-to-child transmission and ensure mothers have access to testing and treatment. I commend the Organization of African First Ladies, in this regard for advocating triple elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B.
Moeti added that, as we battle COVID-19, the threat of further delays to scaling-up hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination and other essential hepatitis services looms large. People with hepatitis-related complications are at a higher risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19 and must continue to receive essential hepatitis prevention and treatment services during the pandemic and beyond.
She added that, with political commitment from governments and partners, backed by financing and integrated using a health system strengthening approach, and with informed and empowered communities, we can achieve a #HepFreeFuture.