Jul 14, 2009, 6:07 AM
Gambia through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and its partners
yesterday joined the rest of the world to observe World Hepatitis Day.
This year’s theme is: “Know hepatitis – Act now” with the aim of increasing global awareness, as well as strengthening prevention, diagnosis and treatment services.
Speaking at the event held at the Central Medical Store in Kotu, Dr Patrick Abok of WHO, who delivered a statement on behalf of the WHO regional director for Africa, said viral hepatitis, an infection of the liver caused by five distinct hepatitis viruses, is a highly widespread public health problem in Africa.
He said it is similar to other major communicable diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
According to him, all five hepatitis viruses could cause severe disease, but the highest numbers of deaths result from liver cancer and cirrhosis - a condition in which there is irreversible scarring of the liver.
This occurs after several years of chronic hepatitis B or C infection, he said, adding that in the African region, hepatitis B affects an estimated 100 million people and it is also estimated that 19 million adults in the region are chronically infected with hepatitis C.
However, he added, most people with chronic viral hepatitis are not aware of their infection and do not receive appropriate treatment.
He urged all member states in the African region to use the World Hepatitis Day as a viral opportunity to step up national efforts on hepatitis and to spur action to implement the strategy on viral hepatitis.
Also speaking, Ramatoulie Sarr, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, said 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.
However, she added, with the adoption of the resolution on the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, viral hepatitis pandemic would no longer remain hidden; target 3 is of particular relevance as it calls for specific action to combat viral hepatitis.
Sheriff Badjie, deputy programme manager, National Aids Control Programme (NACP), said viral hepatitis infection is widely spread, affecting 400 million people worldwide over 10 times the number of people infected with HIV.
He explained that globally about 1.4 million people die each year from hepatitis and it is estimated that only 5 per cent of people with chronic hepatitis know of their infection and less than 1 per cent have access to treatment.
As a result, he said, WHO urged 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.