World Hepatitis Day: More Than 91m Africans Living With Hepatitis- WHO
By Edward Samuel, Abuja
The World Health Organisation, WHO, says more than 91 million Africans are living with hepatitis, estimating 1.2m new hepatitis infections and 125, 000 hepatitis-related deaths occurred in the African Region in 2019.
It said Deaths occur mostly among the young and productive segments of the population.
In her Message to mark this year’s World Hepatitis Day 2023, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said the global hepatitis strategy, endorsed by all WHO Member States, and the Framework for an Integrated Multisectoral Response to TB, HIV, STIs, and Hepatitis in the WHO African Region is aimed to reduce new hepatitis infections by 90% and deaths by 65% by 2030.
“WHO supports regional and national efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030 by providing clear guidance for decentralized and simplified person-centered prevention, testing and treatment of viral hepatitis including eliminating hepatitis B through birth dose vaccination from the day of birth or the day after,” she said.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa said a lot still needs to be done to reduce hepatitis-related deaths and infections, despite the availability of diagnostic tools and effective treatment, more than 90% of people living with hepatitis in Africa do not receive the care they need, and less than 10% of the population has access to testing and treatment.
Dr Moeti said; “This leads to progressive advanced liver disease, devastating financial burden, emotional distress and stigma. Testing and treatment, as a public health approach, remains the most neglected aspect of the response.”
She said the highest burden of hepatitis B infection in children below 5 years of age is seen in countries without hepatitis B vaccination at birth.
“Immunization, thus, is an important component in the fight against hepatitis. I am glad all 47 Member States in the Africa Region have included the Hepatitis B vaccine in routine immunization. However, coverage for routine childhood vaccination against Hepatitis B in the region stands at 72%, far below the global target of 90%. As of 2022, 16 countries in the region provide a birth dose of the vaccine to all newborns, up from 11 in 2021,” she explained.
Dr Moeti said; “We must scale up hepatitis B immunization coverage to reach the globally agreed target of 90%. Therefore, I urge all countries to work to introduce the Hepatitis birth dose. I encourage policymakers and partners to demonstrate political commitment to sustained and simplified hepatitis testing, prevention, and treatment as part of broader liver health and primary health care to achieve viral hepatitis elimination, I remind communities to take up hepatitis vaccination, hepatitis testing, treatment, and curative services through all available health services.”
She, therefore, commended Namibia for being the first country to apply for the WHO path to Mother To Child Transmission Triple elimination status, including Hepatitis B, and looks forward to other countries in the region doing the same soon.
July 28th is observed as World Hepatitis day. It provides an opportunity to focus on actions that raise awareness of the different forms of hepatitis and how they are transmitted, strengthen prevention and screening as well as increase hepatitis vaccination.