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EDITORIAL

Hepatitis, Also A National Health Emergency

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Hepatitis has become a national health emergency and a grave concern to the country. Presently about 20 million Nigerians alone are said to be affected with Hepatitis B, while an estimate of one percent of the country’s population live with Hepatitis C, according to medical experts.

Hepatitis B and C are noted as chronic infections that may take several years before symptoms are shown, making them silent and worrisome killers as deaths caused by the disease in the country is gradually on the rise.

In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) put in place targets for the stamping out of viral hepatitis which it said could become a public health menace by 2030. WHO states that Nigeria has 20 to 30 million people affected with Hepatitis B with a percentage of 13.7 per cent.

In the case of Malaria and AIDS related deaths, UNAIDS data report in 2018 states that in Nigeria alone, there were 150,000 AIDS related deaths, while The Nigeria Malaria Fact Sheet compiled by the Economic section of the United States Embassy points out that there are 300,000 malaria related deaths annually in Nigeria. This dims in comparison to WHO’s report in 2017 which referred to 1.34 million deaths in 2015, caused by viral hepatitis. This number is higher than those caused by Malaria and HIV.

Indeed Nigeria is said to have one of the highest cases of Hepatitis B in the world. Also common in Nigeria is Hepatitis C. Both Hepatitis B and C are said to be vaccine preventable.Last year, WHO disclosed that viral Hepatitis categories B and C affected 325 million people globally and are root causes of liver cancer, resulting in 1.34 million deaths annually.

There is still a lot that we as a country are not doing in terms of awareness and prevention of Hepatitis. And if the federal government continues down the path of laxity, the disease may continue to be responsible for deaths that could indeed be avoided.

Hepatitis has been reportedly defined as ‘an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer,’ according to WHO.

More than 95 percent of deaths are caused by chronic hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis A and E are said to rarely cause life-threatening illnesses, while Hepatitis D is an additional infection happening in people already living with hepatitis B, says WHO.

WHO has continued to place emphasis internationally on Hepatitis for a global response, as it’s transmission is tagged as similar to that of the dreaded HIV. More reports disclose that 20 to 30 percent of adults who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. Also noted is that some percentage of liver cancer cases have been as a result of late testing and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C.

The organisation further revealed that the Hepatitis B virus can live outside the body for about seven days, and can still cause infection if it gets into the body of a person unprotected by the vaccine. The incubation time is on average 75 days but is said to also vary from 30 to 180 days.

Symptoms tied to the disease include: jaundice, extreme fatigue, nausea, dark urine and abdominal pain among others. However some people who are infected may not suffer any of the mentioned symptoms, which could lead to late detection and persistent cases of liver failure.

This is why screening is necessary and advised for people to know their status and either begin treatment if infected or take vaccines as a prevention strategy, for good health and avoidance of further spread of the disease.

Therefore, the federal government should drive awareness campaigns to be placed at high priority levels same as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and so on. The government also ought to address the low coverage of testing and treatment, and encourage Nigerians who are unaware of their status to go for screening.

So, though the World Hepatitis Day, 28th of July, marked annually has come and gone, it is vital that the country treats this issue as a case of emergency. This newspaper points this devastating statistics out as the authorities seem to play down this and other killer diseases because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand the seriousness of the pandemic and the emergency response it has given rise to. However, it is on record that COVID-19, as fatal as it is, must not take attention away from other ailments that are even worse than it.

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