The revelation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that 300 people lose their lives daily from liver cancer and other complications related to Hepatitis B and C infections in Africa is frightening. The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, revealed this in an event to mark this year’s World Hepatitis Day. Globally, an estimated 1.4 million people die annually from 325 million affected by the virus. About 71 million Africans are living with Hepatitis, with Nigeria accounting for 18 million people.
According to medical experts, Hepatitis is a condition of the inflammation of the liver. There are five types of Hepatitis – A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis B and C are most common in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, most of the people living with the virus are unaware of it. Hepatitis B belongs to a group of viruses that predominantly affect the liver. It causes inflammation in the liver called chronic hepatitis, which can progress to liver-cirrhosis and ultimately liver cancer.
The disease is caused by viruses, fungi, bacteria, chemical and some metabolic problems. It is commonly transmitted via body fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal secretions as well as unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing of sharp objects and transfusion of unscreened blood. Mother-to-child transmission is also a common route for the transmission of the disease, as a mother that is positive for Hepatitis can transmit the virus to the new born, especially if she has a high viral count due to their under-developed immunity, babies and children are at risk of infection.
Children can also transmit the virus among themselves through rubbing of saliva and scratching. People with multiple sexual partners are also at risk of Hepatitis infection. Homosexuals and people who do pedicure and manicure with local nail cutters, can equally be affected.
Sadly, many carriers do not know their status because it has a few noticeable symptoms. This is why the disease is called a silent killer. Many people are either misdiagnosed or do not come forward for testing. Available statistics from the WHO show that one in 10 people with Hepatitis B, plus another one in five of people living with Hepatitis C, do not know their status. Also, only 42 in 100 children have access to a Hepatitis B vaccine at birth and only five per cent of people living with viral Hepatitis are aware of their condition globally. This increases the chances of infecting others and reduces the opportunity to access life-saving treatment. This can also explain why Hepatitis ranks among top 10 leading global killers.
Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV. We call on the government to tackle the rising cases of Hepatitis infection. Although the government is trying to curtail the spread of infective Hepatitis across the country, it should do more. We commend the recent Nigeria AIDS Indicators and Impacts Survey (NAISS) campaign sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Health across the 36 states of federation to determine the impacts of HIV and Hepatitis among the citizenry.
There is need for more awareness on the disease as well as funding to reduce its scourge. Interestingly, the disease is preventable through vaccination and lifestyle modification. We urge Nigerians to go for Hepatitis screening at least once a year. Government should work with religious and community leaders to enlighten Nigerians in rural areas on the need for everyone to be tested for Hepatitis. Government should also make the drugs for Hepatitis available and affordable. Positive lifestyle such as avoiding unprotected sex, sharing sharp objects and abstinence from drugs, should be encouraged, particularly among the youths.
Good enough, the theme for this year’s World Hepatitis Day, “Hepatitis-free future,” emphasises the importance of preventing Hepatitis B among mothers and newborns as well as scaling-up prevention, testing and treatment of Hepatitis B and others. The federal and state governments should spare no effort in checking the spread of the disease.