Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hepatitis B is new health threat in Nigeria

The absence of funding (local and foreign donor agencies) and lack of awareness for Hepatitis B virus (HBV) are fuelling the disease burden in Nigeria, which has led to millions of Nigerians developing liver cancer/liver cirrhosis, leading to high medical expenses and loss of income.

While local and foreign agencies spent about $400 million to combat HIV and AIDS in Nigeria, according to the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Hepatitis B virus has received no foreign support. Medical experts say it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to design a local model to address the ailment, as it is not a priority to foreign donor agencies.

This advice is coming as the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 19 million Nigerians have HBV virus, of which about 20 percent are chronic carriers and 40 percent of HBV carriers, likely to die from liver cancer or cirrhosis. Many experts consider hepatitis as an orphan disease in Nigeria, as it has not attracted the attention it deserves, especially as it is several times more infectious than HIV. The government should consider declaring hepatitis a national emergency similar to HIV.

The complexity of hepatitis disease lies in the existence of different types of the virus. Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread by infected body fluids including blood, by sexual contact, mother-to-child transmission during birth, or by contaminated medical equipment. Hepatitis B and C have a greater health burden in terms of death, as they can cause life-long infection which can lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer. In fact, chronic hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.

Hepatitis B can be prevented by reaching every child with immunisation programmes. The fact that many hepatitis B and C infections are silent, causing no symptoms until there is severe damage to the liver, points to the urgent need for universal access to immunisation, screening, diagnosis and antiviral therapy.

Meanwhile, the WHO has urged governments to act against the five hepatitis viruses (Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E) that can cause severe liver infections and lead to 1.4 million deaths annually.

The WHO findings show that 37 percent of countries have national strategies for viral hepatitis, and more work is needed in treating hepatitis. While most of the countries (82 percent) have established hepatitis surveillance programmes, only half of them include the monitoring of chronic hepatitis B and C, which are responsible for most severe illnesses and deaths


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