Hepatitis: ‘highly widespread’ public health problem in Africa

Friday, July 29, 2016

The world observed World Hepatitis Day yesterday on the theme: “Know hepatitis – Act now” with the aim of increasing global awareness, as well as strengthening prevention, diagnosis and treatment services.

The Gambia through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and its partners joined the rest of the world to observe the day.

It has been stated that viral hepatitis, an infection of the liver caused by five distinct hepatitis viruses, is a highly widespread public health problem in Africa.

According to the World Health Organisation, viral hepatitis – a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, E – affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic liver disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year, mostly from hepatitis B and C. It is estimated that “only 5% of people with chronic hepatitis know of their infection, and less that 1% have access to treatment”.

This is actually alarming as the disease has continued to take its toll on the lives of people across the world especially in African countries, affecting people more than 10 times the number of people infected with HIV. 

And that is why we in The Gambia should take it serious as advised by the WHO urging countries to take rapid action to improve knowledge about the disease and to increase access to testing and treatment services to reduce needless deaths from “this preventable and treatable infection”.

“The world has ignored hepatitis at its peril and it is time to mobilise a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generated to fight other communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis,” said the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health.

We would, therefore, like to call on all and sundry to increase our understanding of hepatitis and how we should prevent it from taking its toll on our lives.

The new strategy set out by the WHO to tackle the disease includes “a 30% reduction in new cases of hepatitis B and C, and a 10% reduction in mortality by 2020”.

Let us all in one way or another ensure these targets are achieved, even faster and more than targeted.

In doing so, we should try to know whether we are at risk, get tested and demand treatment if affected.

“Hepatitis kills close to 1.4 million people every year.” 

WHO