The Federal Government has expressed regrets over the low awareness and under-treated of Hepatitis infection in the country.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, made this known at the commemoration of the 2022 World Hepatitis Day (WHD) in Abuja.
It was reported that the WHD takes places every year on July 28 bringing the world together under a single theme to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis.
He expressed regrets that viral hepatitis which remains a public health threat, especially hepatitis B and C, which causes chronic infection with attendant morbidity and mortality are under-diagnosed.
Consequently, he said, nearly 20 million people were living with either hepatitis B or C in the country, which he said still poses public health challenges across the nation.
“The spread of Hepatitis B and C, similar to HIV, is fueled by unsafe sexual behaviour and injection practices, unsafe blood transfusion, harmful practices such as sharing of sharp objects for scarification marks, tattoos etc and Mother-to-Child transmission”.
“We acknowledge the need to do much more than ever before to address this. The global theme for this year is “BRINGING HEPATITIS CARE CLOSER TO YOU,” he said.
He opined that in line with the 2022 theme, the ministry with support from partners is taking concrete steps to ensure that hepatitis care was indeed brought closer to every Nigerian.
He said that important policy and strategic documents as well as treatment protocols for viral hepatitis have been developed in line with the Global Health Sector Strategy for viral hepatitis control.
“You may be aware that in May this year at the 75th World Health Assembly, WHO member states approved a new Global Health Sector Strategy for Viral Hepatitis.
“I am happy to inform you that Nigeria has in alignment with the new strategy, developed our own National Strategic Framework for Viral Hepatitis aimed at achieving the global target of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030”.
‘The core pillars identified for attaining the 2030 target include infant vaccination, prevention of mother-to-child intervention, blood and injection safety, harm reduction, diagnosis and treatment. The National Strategic Framework will be formally presented as part of this briefing.
“As a country committed to the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030, the need to create massive public awareness cannot be overemphasised.
Together with this, we need to build the capacity of health care providers, expand access to diagnosis and treatment, and improve community engagement as well as political leadership at all levels,” he said.
Also speaking, the WHO, Country Representative, Dr Walter Mulombo, said that Nigeria has one of the highest burdens of viral hepatitis with a national hepatitis B (HBV) prevalence rate of 8.1 per cent and hepatitis C (HCV) prevalence rate is 1.1 per cent among adult aged 15 to 64 years in the country.
“There is a lack of awareness among the general populace as evidenced by a low uptake of available preventive services,” he said.
He lamented the high cost of treatment and out-of-pocket payment expenditures been identified as impediments to treatment access for Nigerians to be aware of their status.
He stated that in recent years, there has been a growing political commitment at the country level.
“By introducing the hepatitis B Birth dose and the pentavalent (DTP-HepB-Hib) vaccine into routine childhood immunization schedule since 2004, Nigeria is contributing to the global achievement of the reduction of hepatitis B infections in children across the country,” he said.
Also, speaking, the Country Country Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ms Uduak Daniel, noted that to effectively raise awareness about hepatitis care to communities and individuals, there must be a focus on the vulnerable and the hard-to-reach populations.
Daniel said the use of prevalence of HCV is higher in prisons compared to the general population, and although there was no known published national HCV prevalence studying prisons.
“An independent study conducted in 2020 among 142 people aged 18 to 50 years in a custodial centre in Nigeria showed an HCV prevalence of 29.6 per cent. The prevalence was twice as higher among men 31.0 per cent compared to women 15.4 per cent.
“UNODC continues to support Nigeria’s achievement of universal access to a comprehensive cascade of relevant health services for PWIDs and people in custodial centres,” she said.
The Society for Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Nigeria, (SOGHIN), President, Prof Abiodun Otegbayo, also expressed concern over the non-availability of Liver Transplantation services in the country, lamenting that Nigerians still pay prohibitive costs getting cured outside the country.
Otegbayo called for urgent intervention from the Federal Government to curb the worrisome trend.
The president also called on the Federal Government to halt the exodus of highly skilled health professionals, including Gastroenterologists and Endoscopy Nurses, as well as trainees in the field of Hepatology.
He observed with dismay the dwindling funding for the diagnosis, treatment and research on viral hepatitis in the country by all tiers of government.
It was reported that hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by a variety of infectious viruses and noninfectious agents leading to a range of health problems
The five most common viral hepatitis are A, B, C, D, and E.
Recently, the hepatitis G virus was identified.
Hepatitis A and E are transmitted through contaminated food, water, poor hygiene and close contact with carriers of the virus. Hepatitis B, C and D are transmitted through blood, sexual intercourse, bodily fluids, kissing, sharing syringes and blades, and touching wounds of infected persons.
Hepatitis G being the newly discovered viral hepatitis’ route of transmission is no different from that of B, C and D. Studies revealed that hepatitis A and E are acute; last for a short time – less than six months and hepatitis B, C, D and G may progress to chronicity; more than six months.
Symptoms of viral hepatitis start from the absence of symptoms (asymptotic) to mild or moderate features such as jaundice; yellowish discolouration of the skin and eyes, poor appetite, malaise and progressing to a chronic liver failure.