Africa is no stranger to public health challenges, but Hepatitis B is one of the diseases that have been silently spreading across the continent. As the world marks Hepatitis Day on July 28, 2023, it is time for African populations to join hands in testing and awareness activities organized in different countries. It is crucial to understand the gravity of this disease and take immediate action to prevent its further spread.
Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening viral infection that affects the liver. It is transmitted through contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids, including unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles, or from an infected mother to her newborn during childbirth. The virus can cause chronic liver disease, leading to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death.
While Hepatitis B is a global concern, it has particularly gained ground in Africa due to a combination of various factors, including limited access to healthcare, lack of awareness, and inadequate prevention and control measures. The prevalence of the disease varies across the continent, with some countries reporting alarmingly high infection rates.
On July 12, 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 296 million people were living with chronic hepatitis B infection in 2019, with 1.5 million new infections each year. The report indicates that hepatitis B resulted in an estimated 820 000 deaths, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. According to the WHO, more than 91 million people in Africa were infected with hepatitis B and C in 2022, representing about 70% worldwide.
For World Hepatitis Day 2023, WHO focuses on the theme “One life One liver” to highlight the importance of the liver for a healthy life and the need to scale up testing and treatment of viral hepatitis to prevent liver disease and achieve the 2030 elimination goals.
The factors of the spread in Africa
One of the primary reasons for the rapid spread of Hepatitis in Africa is the lack of routine immunization programs. Unlike many developed countries, where Hepatitis B vaccination is a part of the standard childhood immunization schedule, several African nations struggle to provide universal access to vaccines. This leaves millions of individuals vulnerable to infection, especially in low-income communities with limited healthcare infrastructure.
Additionally, poor hygiene practices, such as the reuse of needles and unsafe blood transfusions, contribute to the transmission of Hepatitis B. In some cases, cultural practices like scarification and traditional medical procedures involving unsterilized equipment further exacerbate the risk of infection. These factors, combined with a lack of public awareness campaigns, have allowed Hepatitis B to silently spread across the continent.
However, there is hope on the horizon. With the observance of Hepatitis Day on July 28, numerous testing and awareness activities are being organized across Africa. These events aim to educate the public about the risks associated with Hepatitis B, promote testing to identify infected individuals, and encourage vaccination to prevent new infections.
Joining the campaign against Hepatitis B
Participating in Hepatitis Day activities is not only an opportunity to learn about the disease but also a chance to take control of your health. By getting tested, individuals can determine their hepatitis status and seek appropriate medical care if needed. Furthermore, vaccination plays a vital role in preventing Hepatitis B transmission, and these events often provide free or subsidized vaccines to those in need.
This is the example of Togo where from this Friday July 28 to August 3, 2023, six health centers will be open in the cities of Kara, Sokodé and Lomé for free screening tests for hepatitis B.
It is essential for governments, healthcare providers, and communities to come together and prioritize the fight against Hepatitis B. African nations must invest in comprehensive vaccination programs, ensuring that every child receives the Hepatitis B vaccine as part of their routine immunizations. Additionally, healthcare facilities need to implement stringent infection control measures to prevent the spread of the virus within medical settings.
“What if I die after being diagnosed with Hepatitis B ?” a woman questioned AfrikPage reporters during an interview at Accra Mall, in the capital of Ghana. For her, the tests are the causes of fear that lead to the death.
Therefore, public awareness campaigns should be intensified, targeting both urban and rural communities. Efforts should focus on dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding Hepatitis while promoting safe practices such as using sterile needles, practicing safe sex, and avoiding the sharing of personal hygiene items.
International organizations, governments, and non-profit entities are working tirelessly to support African countries in their fight against Hepatitis. They provide resources, technical expertise, and funding to strengthen healthcare systems, improve access to vaccines and medications, and develop sustainable prevention and control strategies.
However, the success of these efforts relies heavily on the active participation of individuals and communities. Each person must take responsibility for their own health and the health of those around them. By getting tested for Hepatitis B, individuals can not only protect themselves but also prevent the transmission of the virus to their loved ones.
Testing is a crucial step in identifying infected individuals who may be asymptomatic or unaware of their infection status. Early detection allows for timely medical intervention, preventing the progression of the disease and reducing the risk of complications. Testing also provides an opportunity to educate individuals about the importance of vaccination, safe practices, and regular monitoring of liver health.
Furthermore, raising awareness about Hepatitis B is essential to dispel myths, eliminate stigma, and promote a supportive environment for those living with the disease. Education campaigns should target schools, workplaces, community centers, and religious institutions to reach a wide range of audiences. Messages should be culturally sensitive, translated into local languages, and delivered through various channels, including social media, radio, television, and community gatherings.
In addition to testing and awareness activities, Hepatitis B Day serves as a platform to advocate for policy changes and increased funding for Hepatitis B prevention and control programs. Governments should prioritize the integration of Hepatitis B vaccination into their national immunization schedules and allocate adequate resources for its implementation. They should also work towards strengthening healthcare infrastructure, ensuring access to affordable healthcare services and medications for all.
As we commemorate Hepatitis Day on July 28, 2023, let us recognize the urgency of the situation and the collective responsibility we bear in the fight against this disease in Africa. By taking part in testing and awareness activities, we can empower ourselves and our communities with knowledge, prevention, and early intervention. Together, we can halt the silent spread of Hepatitis B and create a healthier future for Africa.
Remember, your actions today can save lives tomorrow. Get tested, get vaccinated, and join the fight against Hepatitis.