Over 70 million affected with hepatitis in Africa

A recent World Health Organization report has confirmed that chronic hepatitis affects over 70 million people in Africa, and the number will continue to rise if much needed attention and care is not given to people with the viral disease.  The report furthered that 60 million people have hepatitis B and 10 million, hepatitis C. According to health experts, hepatitis B is preventable and treatable, and hepatitis C is now curable.

July 28 every year is commemorated around the world as World Hepatitis Day, but despite the availability of diagnostic tools and effective treatment, over 90% of people living with hepatitis B and C in Africa lack much needed care. Dr. Samuel Smith, the Director for Disease Prevention and Control in Sierra Leone, confirmed that the figures are indeed high and, “Hepatitis accounts for 200,000 deaths a year in Africa, and our country is no exception because most people refuse to access a health facility for routine checkup and as a result when they fall ill it’s too late to perform a miracle.”

He added that the viral disease affects most of the continent’s youthful and productive population, because they are at risk of exposing themselves to the factors responsible for contacting the deadly disease, which is becoming a bigger threat in Africa than dying from HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. The disease prevention director noted that much progress has been made through raising awareness on the dangers of hepatitis. A new analysis shows that the disease remains neglected in many parts of the continent. “People don’t report early to know their status of strange ailments or symptoms of the liver related viral disease which causes liver failure and liver cancer, which accounts for 3,600 deaths every day,” said Dr. Smith, adding, fewer than 1 in 10 people in Africa have access to testing and treatment.

Victor Smith, the Public Relations Officer of the Hepatitis Alliance in Sierra Leone, revealed, “We have to find the missing millions who continue to suffer and die from the viral disease.” He also buttressed the assertion by the Directorate of Disease Prevention and Control that fewer people, especially the youth, have access to testing and treatment, which he maintained results to the liver related disease often progressing because of the huge financial burden involved coupled with emotional distress and stigmatization.

He said with political will and commitment from government to provide adequate resources, hepatitis can reach its 2030 elimination target, just like HIV/AIDS. To commemorate World Hepatitis Day, free tests are carried out on the day – July 28 – for people who wish to know their status. But the burden starts after knowing their status: accessing the expensive treatment that’s only available in private clinics across the country.

By Ade Campbell