Experts have said vaccinating against Hepatitis Virus, (HBV) remains the single best way of vanquishing the virus.
HBV has been described as the most deadly viral diseases, claiming lives of more than 800,000 people each year.
It is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. The virus latches onto cells in the liver, injects its DNA and hijacks the cell’s machinery to power its own replication.
“HBV is a silent assassin. It can hide out for decades, causing potentially life-threatening damage to the liver and spreading to new victims before any symptoms show,” GAVI, the vaccine alliance disclosed.
Although, there are two types of treatment for Hepatitis (One uses nucleot(s)ide analogues, molecules that block the viral DNA from replicating inside the host cells. The other involves flooding the body with proteins called interferons, which switch on the body’s natural immune defences against the virus), Professor of Molecular Virology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, John Tavis, said only five to 10 per cent of patients achieve a functional cure when using these treatments.
“It is great we have these therapies but it is not where we need to be. One class (of drugs) is hard to take, the other you need to take forever,” Tavis disclosed while speaking to Vaccineswork team at GAVI.
To reduce vertical transmission of the virus, a dose of HepB vaccination is recommended within 24 hours of birth. However, in 2021, less than 20 per cent of newborns across Africa received this birth dose of vaccination and only 14 countries in the region had national policies for HepB birth dose vaccination.
Unfortunately the coverage of Hepatitis B immunisation, though available is still not adequate in a country like Nigeria, its coverage is about 41 per cent, studies have shown.
As a result of the poor screening and low vaccination rate in Nigeria, the children born are at risk of developing chronic liver disease later in life, a recent study in Nigeria, titled: “The seroprevalence of Hepatitis B virus infection among pregnant women attending Dei-dei general hospital,” revealed.
A consultant physician and gastroenterologist, Dr. Cara Cookey tells me that the world must act in urgency to eliminate Hepatitis because every 30 seconds, a person dies from hepatitis related illness even in the current COVID-19 pandemic.
On finding a cure for HBV, Tavis said the scientists all over the world are making progress in new treatments to tackle the disease.
“The feeling within the scientific community is that major improvements will happen in the next five to 10 years, but it is not going to be one optimal combination at first, it is likely going to be a collection of powerful tools that together will have the strength to take on the virus,” he said.