28 July 2016
Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s Hepatitis Day on Thursday.
The day is set aside in honour of the birthday of the scientist who discovered the hepatitis B virus and its first vaccine.
Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch Samuel Blumberg, discovered hepatitis B virus 50 years ago and developed the first hepatitis B vaccine.
In commemoration of the 2016 anniversary, the Federal Government launched the first edition of the National Guidelines for the prevention, treatment, care and control of viral hepatitis in the country.
Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, told a news conference organised to mark the day in Abuja that viral hepatitis was a silent killer and the seventh leading cause of death globally.
He said the theme for this year’s global campaign is “Know Hepatitis, Act now’’.
He said that the campaign aimed to highlight the need for Nigerians to know hepatitis and take actions, by getting tested and to seek for treatment.
“According to WHO, viral hepatitis is responsible for 1.44 million annual deaths, which is comparable to the annual deaths from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, yet it suffers from lack of awareness and political de-prioritisation.
“An estimated 240 million persons are chronically infected with hepatitis B virus and 150 million with hepatitis.
“It is also estimated that majority of persons with chronic hepatitis B and C are unaware of their infection and do not benefit from clinical care, treatment and interventions designed to reduce onward transmission.
“Without diagnosis and treatment one-third of those infected with viral hepatitis will die as a result of liver disease,’’ he said.
Adewole said that a recent population-based survey conducted by the Federal Ministry of Health in 2013, showed the prevalence of viral hepatitis B and C to be 11 per cent and 2.2 per cent in Nigeria.
He said that about 20 million people were living with the virus in Nigeria and were at risk of developing liver cirrhosis.
He noted that hepatitis was an inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis virus, type A, B, C, D and E.
“Common modes of transmission of the virus include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment.
“For hepatitis B transmission from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child and also by sexual contact.
“The best strategy is to start now to prevent viral hepatitis by knowing the risks of contracting, which are from unsafe blood, unsafe injections, sharing drug-injection equipment and unprotected sexual intercourse.
“It is important to re-emphasise the need for all health workers to reduce risks by using only sterile equipment for injections and other medical procedures,’’ he said.
Adewole said that Nigeria had adopted the first-ever elimination strategy for viral hepatitis with ambitious targets and to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.
He urged all policy makers, health workers and the public to take proactive steps of knowing their status by getting tested and seeking treatment to reduce needless deaths from this preventable and treatable infection.
In Ilorin, the Kwara branch of the Nigerian Medical Association advised Nigerians to protect themselves from hepatitis through immunisation.
Its chairman, Dr Kunle Olawepo, gave the advice in a statement and said hepatitis was a condition that had become important for public concern, education and enlightenment.
He said that liver cancer or Hepatic Cellular Carcinoma (HCC) is one of the 10 most common cancers worldwide, and is closely associated with hepatitis B, and at least in some regions of the world with hepatitis C virus.
“This virus is responsible for high mortality (15 per cent to 20 per cent), during pregnancy particularly during the third trimester,’’ Olawepo said.
Olawepo called for improvement in sanitation and personal hygiene, immunisation and the stepping up of public campaign against the disease.
In Kogi State, Dr Olusegun Obateru, a Consultant Gastroenterologist at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Lokoja, urged the Federal Government to raise awareness to eliminate viral Hepatitis as a public health threat.
Obateru said the call was necessary to educate the public on the need to completely eliminate Hepatitis from the society by 2030 in line with the projection of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“I personally want the government to assist Hepatitis patients to subsidise drugs and treatment as is being done for HIV patients.
“Lots of our patients cannot afford or sustain the cost of drugs and treatment of Hepatitis B and C, because it takes long duration to be treated.
“From study, it shows that treatment could take a minimum of three to five years and most patients may not be able to sustain it.
“We want government to subsidise those drugs because it would go a long way to reduce the transmission and prevalence of viral Hepatitis.’’
The expert defined hepatitis as the inflammation or swelling of the liver caused by viral infections such as Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
“Viral infections that are most significant to us due to their life-threatening conditions to the liver are the Hepatitis B and C.
“Hepatitis B and C can easily result to liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver if not quickly treated, unlike the A and E which are acute infections that could be cleared without treatment.’’
He explained further that A and E could be contacted by intake of contaminated food and water, while B and C are transmitted through sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, mother to child or breastfeeding and use of contaminated instruments.
“It can also be prevented through proper screening of blood before transfusion, vaccination, early evaluation of pregnant women and timely passive immunisation of a new born baby.
“Hepatitis C has no vaccination yet; that is why the patients should be treated immediately it is discovered, to prevent transmission,” Obateru explained.
The WHO targets to eliminate Hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030
The inter-governmental, global institution marks the day annually in collaboration with the World Health Organisation.
A staggering 95 per cent of people infected with hepatitis B or C around the world do not know they are infected. One reason for this is that people can live without symptoms for many years.
When they find out they have hepatitis, it is often too late for treatment to be fully effective.
There are 10 million new hepatitis infection annually with less than 1 per cent of the infected seeking treatment.
The virus kills an estimated 1.4 million people annually.