By John Ikani
The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for action to eliminate viral hepatitis in Africa by 2030.
In a message marking World Hepatitis Day on July 28, WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said that more than 91 million Africans are living with hepatitis, and that 1.2 million new infections and 125,000 deaths occurred in the region in 2019.
Dr. Moeti said a lot still needs to be done to reduce hepatitis-related deaths and infections.
She lamented that 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.
“This leads to progressive advanced liver disease, devastating financial burden, emotional distress and stigma,” Dr. Moeti said.
“Testing and treatment, as a public health approach, remains the most neglected aspect of the response.”
Dr. Moeti went on to note that immunization is an important component in the fight against hepatitis. She noted that all 47 Member States in the Africa Region have included the Hepatitis B vaccine in routine immunization, but that coverage for routine childhood vaccination against Hepatitis B in the region stands at 72%, far below the global target of 90%.
“We must scale up hepatitis B immunization coverage to reach the globally agreed target of 90%,” Dr. Moeti said.
“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.”
Dr. Moeti 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.
The significant occasion serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of raising awareness about the different forms of hepatitis and their modes of transmission.
Strengthening prevention and screening efforts, as well as increasing hepatitis vaccination, can undoubtedly make a profound difference in safeguarding public health and saving lives.
The clock is ticking, and the call for urgent action resonates louder than ever before.