…only 3 countries leading prevention efforts
…vaccination costs only US 0.20 cent
A new World Health Organisation (WHO) scorecard–the first to examine hepatitis prevalence and response in the WHO African region, shows that only three of the 47 countries are on track to eliminate the disease that affects one in 15 people in the region.
Sadly, the three countries that are on track to eliminate viral hepatitis do not include Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy with a gross domestic product (GDP) size of more than $400 billion.
Dying of viral hepatitis in Africa, a continent with a population of over 1.307 billion people, is becoming a bigger threat than dying of AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis, noted Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement in Brazzaville, Congo made available to business a.m.
“This analysis is the first to track each country in the region and to assess progress towards the goal of saving the lives of more than two million Africans who may develop progressive hepatitis B or C liver disease in the next decade, if countries fail to ramp up their efforts,” he said.
The scorecard is being presented at the first African Hepatitis Summit that ends in in Kampala, Uganda today June 20. It started on June 18.
It provides vital information about the status of the regional hepatitis response, measuring progress against the Framework for Action for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis in the African Region (2016–2020). It was created as a guide for member states on the implementation of the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis, which calls for the elimination of hepatitis by 2030 (defined as a 90% reduction in new cases and 65% reduction in deaths).
Sixty million people in the WHO Africa Region were living with chronic hepatitis B infection in 2015. More than 4.8 million of them are children under five years old. A further 10 million are infected with hepatitis C, most likely due to unsafe injection practices within health facilities or by communities, the global health body said.
Meanwhile, every year, more than 200,000 people in Africa die from complications of viral hepatitis B and C-related liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The WHO Africa region analysis shows that 28 countries have developed a national hepatitis strategic plan for viral hepatitis. However, most are still in draft form with only 13 officially published and disseminated.
WHO has been a major partner in the regional response with policy development and provision of technical and financial support, as well as capacity building for a co-ordinated regional response.
It said that only 15 percent (or seven of 47) African countries are leading prevention efforts with national coverage of both Hepatitis B birth dose and childhood pentavalent vaccination exceeding 90 percent. There are major gaps in hepatitis testing and treatment with less than eight countries providing subsidized testing and treatment for viral hepatitis.
WHO Africa said Uganda has started free nationwide hepatitis B treatment, while Rwanda is providing free treatment for both hepatitis B and C. The two countries are said to be championing the regional response; and are on track to reach the 2020 framework targets for testing and community awareness.
Moeti said administration of the hepatitis B vaccination at birth and in early infancy is the most effective way to halt the transmission of the virus because 95 percent of the burden of chronic disease is due to infections among children, acquired before their fifth birthday, including mother-to-child transmission.
He informed that the birth dose vaccination costs less than US$ 0.20 per child. But only 11 countries in the region are following this protocol. One such country is Cabo Verde where the government has mobilized financial resources and has achieved 99 percent vaccination coverage at birth.