The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that no fewer than 91 million Africans live with hepatitis, and approximately 125,000 hepatitis-related deaths occur on the continent.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, disclosed this in her message to commemorate the 2023 World Hepatitis Day, with the theme, “One Life, One Liver.”
Moeti emphasized that the theme aims to highlight the connection between viral hepatitis infection and liver inflammation, which leads to liver injury and damage, and the broader issues of liver health and primary health care.
“In 2019 alone, no fewer than 1.2 million new hepatitis infections were detected, with most of the young and active members of the population dying from the disease.”
Moeti pointed out that the most common types of hepatitis in Africa are hepatitis B and C, which can be transmitted through contaminated blood, unprotected sexual activity, or from mother to child during childbirth.
Moeti recommended that everyone should have access to services through strong primary healthcare services, which should be increasingly funded through domestic resources.
She also highlighted that infection with the hepatitis B virus is preventable through vaccination, and doctors can now successfully treat hepatitis C, caused by the hepatitis C virus, with antiviral drugs.
“WHO supports regional and national efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030 by providing clear guidance for decentralised and simplified person-centred prevention, testing, and treatment of viral hepatitis.”
She mentioned that this support also includes eliminating hepatitis B through birth dose vaccination (given on the day of birth or the day after).
Moeti acknowledged that much still needs to be done to reduce hepatitis-related deaths and infections.
“Despite the availability of diagnostic tools and effective treatment, more than 90 per cent of people living with hepatitis in Africa do not receive the care they need. And less than 10 per cent of the population has access to testing and treatment.”
She stated that this leads to progressive advanced liver disease, devastating financial burden, emotional distress, and stigma.
“The highest burden of hepatitis B infection in children below five years of age is seen in countries without hepatitis B vaccination at birth. Immunisation, thus, is an important component in the fight against hepatitis.”