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World Hepatitis Day: Undiagnosed, untreated hepatitis kills 124,000 Africans every year, WHO says

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World Hepatitis Day: Undiagnosed, untreated hepatitis kills 124,000 Africans every year, WHO says

By Franca Ofili

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 124,000 Africans die each year from undiagnosed and untreated hepatitis.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said this in his message to commemorate World Hepatitis Day, aimed at raising awareness of the disease under the theme: “Hepatitis cannot not wait ”.

Moeti said the disease inflames the liver and can lead to liver cancer and cirrhosis, calling on all countries to quickly improve access to services to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.

Hepatitis is a silent epidemic with more than 90 million people living with the disease in Africa, representing 26% of the global total, she noted.

The WHO director added that around 4.5 million African children under the age of five were infected with chronic hepatitis B, accounting for 70% of the global burden in this age group.

Moeti said the global target of less than 1% hepatitis B incidence in children under 5 has been met, but the African region is lagging behind with 2.5%.

“She said most of these cases could be prevented by eliminating mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of the disease, during or shortly after birth and in early childhood.

“Key interventions for hepatitis B include immunization at birth and in infancy, screening pregnant women and providing timely treatment,” Moeti said.

She said countries are encouraged to integrate hepatitis B PMTCT into the antenatal care package along with the HIV and syphilis PMTCT program, especially after it was found that only 14 countries in the region were implementing the hepatitis B vaccine at birth. .

“Of those infected, nine out of 10 have never been tested, due to limited awareness and access to testing and treatment.

“Even among countries offering hepatitis B vaccine at birth, health systems face challenges in ensuring that pregnant women and mothers are tested and those who test positive are treated.

“At the same time, there are many promising developments on hepatitis. With the launch of the first global hepatitis strategy in 2016, as well as increased advocacy in recent years, political will is starting to translate into action.

“Hepatitis medications have also become much more affordable, with prices as low as $ 60 per patient for 12 weeks of treatment,” she said.

Moeti said African heads of state pledged to tackle viral hepatitis as a public health threat in the Cairo Declaration in February 2020, and the Egyptian Initiative plans to provide treatment for it. hepatitis C to one million Africans, with South Sudan, Eritrea and Chad already reaching 50,000 people.

“Apart from them, Rwanda, Uganda and Benin have set up free hepatitis screening and treatment programs and 16 other countries are launching pilot projects in this direction.

“To guide action against hepatitis, 28 African countries have now put in place strategic plans and, globally, WHO guidelines were launched in 2020 on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the disease. ‘hepatitis B,’ Moeti said.

She added that the WHO Regional Office for Africa was developing training materials to help countries implement the five essential hepatitis interventions and decentralize diagnosis and treatment.

Moeti therefore called on all stakeholders in maternal and child health to consider how hepatitis could be integrated into existing initiatives, as health systems play a critical role in preventing transmission by ensuring that it is that blood donations are checked and that syringes are used only once and then safely. eliminated.

She also called on individuals to seek hepatitis testing and treatment and to learn more about the disease in order to end the silent epidemic. (NAN) www.nannews, ng

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