“More than 30 per cent of the population who are infected with Hepatitis B are now aware of their status and can have access to free medical care, making Uganda the first country in Africa to surpass the 2020 target of 20 per cent,” notes the WHO scorecard.
Hepatitis B spreads through blood and bodily fluids including mother to child transmission. It attacks the liver and kills approximately 1.4 million people every year, across the globe, mostly through liver scarring (cirrhosis) and cancer. Hepatitis C, which also attacks the liver and has similar symptoms to Hepatitis B, usually spreads only through blood-to-blood contact.
Kenya is among countries in Africa with a high prevalence of Hepatitis B. Uganda and Tanzania are among countries with more than 100,000 children with chronic Hepatitis B. Almost 50,000 children with chronic Hepatitis B virus (HBV) live in Kenya and Rwanda
The Regional Director for Africa, World Health Organisation, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, has said that more than 200,000 people die each year in Nigeria and other parts of Africa due to hepatitis complications such as end-stage liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
He called on Nigerian government and its African counterparts to invest in efforts to eradicate the disease by 2030.
In a message read on behalf of Moeti in Abuja by WHO officer in charge of Nigeria, Dr. Clement Peter, on the 2019 World Hepatitis Day commemoration, the WHO leader in Africa warned that despite the availability of diagnostic tools and effective treatment, less than one in 10 of the 71 million people with hepatitis B or C in Africa had access to testing.
According to her, the WHO in June developed the first hepatitis scorecard to track progress across the African region, stressing that the scorecard showed that testing and treatment as a public health approach remained the most neglected aspect of the response.
She said, “The theme this year is, ‘Invest in eliminating hepatitis.’ It is a timely reminder that this disease can be eliminated by 2030 with adequate resources and strong political commitment.
“In June, the WHO developed the first hepatitis scorecard to track progress across the Region. The scorecard shows that the highest burden of hepatitis B infection in children under five years is seen in countries without hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination in combination with sub-optimal coverage.
“Testing and treatment as a public health approach remains the most neglected aspect of the response. Funding hepatitis testing and treatment services as part of universal health coverage is a cost-effective investment.
“I call on member states to invest in a public health approach towards elimination of viral hepatitis B and C in Africa. Countries should invest in hepatitis B vaccination for all newborns and integrate hepatitis interventions as part of health system strengthening.”
Moeti also called on partners and pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of hepatitis B and C diagnostics and medicines.
She added, “In addition to governments and partner efforts, civil society and people living with viral hepatitis should continue playing a central role in raising community and political awareness.”