Hepatitis in Africa
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90 million people living with hepatitis in Africa- WHO

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By Ajuma Edwina Ameh
More than 90 million people are living with hepatitis in Africa, accounting for 26 percent of the global total, the World Health Organization (WHO), has revealed.
The international organization further disclosed that more than 124,000 Africans are dying annually from the consequences of undetected and untreated hepatitis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, made the disclosure in her message to commemorate this year’s World Hepatitis Day.
Th World Hepatitis Day is marked on July 28 annually, to increase awareness of the disease, which inflames the liver and can lead to liver cancer and cirrhosis.
According to Dr. Moeti, around 4.5 million African children under five years old are infected with chronic hepatitis B, reflecting an enormous 70 percent of the global burden in this age group, adding that the global target of less than one person incidence of hepatitis B in children under 5 years has been reached, but the African region is lagging behind at 2.5%.
She said: “This year’s theme is ‘hepatitis can’t wait’, and we call on all countries to rapidly improve access to services to prevent, diagnose and treat hepatitis.
“In Africa, hepatitis is a silent epidemic. Most of these cases could be prevented by eliminating mother-to-child transmission of the disease, during or shortly after birth and in early childhood.
“Key interventions against hepatitis B include vaccination at birth and in early childhood, screening pregnant women, and providing timely treatment.
“We are encouraging countries to integrate the Hepatitis B PMTCT in the Ante-Natal Care package, together with the HIV and Syphilis PMTCT program.
“Yet only 14 countries in the Region are implementing hepatitis B birth-dose vaccine. Among people who are infected, nine out of 10 have never been tested because of limited awareness and access to testing and treatment.
“Even among countries offering hepatitis B birth-dose vaccine, health systems are facing challenges in ensuring pregnant women and mothers are tested and that those who test positive are treated.”
Speaking further, the WHO Regional Director for Africa stated that to guide action on hepatitis, 28 African countries now have strategic plans in place, adding that WHO guidelines were launched last year on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B.
“The WHO Regional Office for Africa, is developing training materials in order to help countries to implement the five hepatitis core interventions and decentralize the diagnosis and treatment.
“Going forward, as WHO we are seeking to integrate hepatitis B interventions into antenatal care services. We also want to strengthen collaboration with key partners, such as the Organization of African First Ladies for Development, which have championed progress towards a HIV-free generation. By expanding programmes to incorporate hepatitis, action can be quickly scaled-up.
“So, this World Hepatitis Day, I urge all stakeholders in maternal and child health to consider how hepatitis can be integrated into existing initiatives,” she advised.

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