Hepatitis is considered an international health risk enough for a day to be officially earmarked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to draw global attention to the danger it poses to humanity. July 28 of every year is set aside by the world body to drum up awareness about the symptoms and effects of the disease. That date was chosen on purpose. It is the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg, the Nobel Laureate scientist who discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967 and developed a vaccine and means of diagnosis.
For those not too familiar with the ailment, Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis, and there are five distinct hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D, and E). According to WHO, Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C, and D usually occur as a result of contact with infected blood or body fluids.
Other causes of hepatitis include heavy alcohol use, some drugs and medications, obesity, autoimmune diseases, and other infections. Sadly, 1.3 million people worldwide die annually from the different hepatitis viruses and 1 in 12 people worldwide live with either chronic hepatitis B or C.
According to a Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) report, Nigeria, with an estimated population of 200 million people, has a Hepatitis B prevalence of 8.1 per cent and Hepatitis C at 1.1 per cent. The survey was National house-hold based aimed at assessing the prevalence of HIV and related health indicators including the national prevalence of two additional blood-borne viruses: Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus. This gives an estimated number of about 20 million Nigerians living with Hepatitis B and or C. This is believed to be the highest-burden for any of the infectious diseases in the country.
However, the awareness about the dangers of Hepatitis is extremely low in Nigeria. The federal and state governments have relegated the disease to the background as the country is seemingly not demonstrating the much-needed commitment to end the scourge by 2030 as advocated by the WHO.
What is more disturbing, in our opinion, is the fact that most Nigerians don’t even know what Hepatitis is. Some people in the rural areas confuse Hepatitis with Hypertension. It is so bad that after being confirmed positive, some Nigerians, due to lack of funds and or ignorance, go ahead to patronize local herb sellers for treatment and in most cases, the chemicals in the herbs aggravate the disease increasing its fatality risk.
Similarly, in Nigeria, nine out of 10 patients don’t even know they have the virus because it does not manifest symptoms on time. The disease principally attacks the liver and, according to experts, even when the liver is almost 80 percent dead, it still carries out its basic functions.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, the federal government needs to commit adequate fund to eliminate the virus in the country. Funding is extremely necessary to increase advocacy, public enlightenment, and access to diagnosis and treatment.
For instance, HIV testing is free in most public hospitals in the country but the testing for Hepatitis is expensive and out of reach for the ordinary Nigerian. Furthermore, HIV treatment is also free in most government hospitals but treatment for Hepatitis is expensive for low and medium-income earners. In a country where over 80 million persons are extremely poor, access to funds for treatment is near non-existent thereby increasing the fatality.
It is also pertinent to note that Hepatitis and HIV have similar modes of transmission. But it is far more infectious than HIV. It is, therefore, worrisome that while the government is making HIV a top priority, such cannot be said of Hepatitis.
We are persuaded by the severity of this ailment to suggest that the government channel some global funds from HIV to hepatitis. With 18 million Nigerians living with the disease, it is enough for the government to make it a top priority and declare it a national emergency. It is from this perspective that we also admonish the health authorities to Increase access to treatment for the disease, make funds available and accessible for patients. It is gratifying to note that Hepatitis is vaccine-preventable. We call on the government at all levels to make Hepatitis test free, compulsory, and accessible to all Nigerians.
We can’t emphasize enough the benefits of early treatment. Nigerians should willingly go for tests and if positive, commence treatment immediately as it has been adduced that early treatment has saved millions of lives. Consequently, we call on the government to also intensify efforts to vaccinate a majority of Nigerians against viral hepatitis. Vaccination has proven to be very effective in eliminating the scourge of the virus.
World Hepatitis Day: UNIUYO Provost Asks Nigerians To Go For Screening(Opens in a new browser tab)