The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said more than 91 million Africans are currently living with Hepatitis B or C, the strains described as the deadliest of the virus.
The WHO African region explained that the Viral Hepatitis Scorecard 2021 looks at data from the African region for Hepatitis B and C, both of which cause liver cirrhosis and cancer.
It noted that the scorecard found that in 19 countries, more than 8 per cent of the population is infected with Hepatitis B, while in 18 countries, more than 1 per cent of the population live with Hepatitis C.
In 2020, the African region accounted for 26 per cent of the global burden for Hepatitis B and C and 125,000 associated deaths, the global health agency said.
Globally, the African region accounts for 70 per cent of the global Hepatitis B cases found among children younger than 5 years, with 4.5 million African children infected.
In her comments, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said there is a safe and effective vaccine that offers 100 per cent protection against Hepatitis B.
She said: “Hepatitis has been called the silent epidemic, but this scorecard is sounding an alarm for the region and the world to hear.
“We must do better and stop this disease from stealing away our children’s future, one of the deadliest strains of the virus.
“We must ensure that all African children are vaccinated within 24 hours of their birth and are followed up with two or more doses of the vaccine.”
The scorecard also noted that coverage for routine childhood vaccination against Hepatitis B is 72 per cent for the African region, which is below the global target of 90 per cent.
Hepatitis can be spread through contaminated blood products, and much more progress is needed to ensure blood safety.
In the African region, only 80 per cent of blood donations are screened with quality assurance, while 5 per cent of syringes are reused.
The scorecard also shows that diagnosis and treatment rates are alarmingly low. In 2021, only an estimated 2 per cent of persons infected with Hepatitis B were diagnosed, and only 0.1 per cent were treated.
While for Hepatitis C, an estimated 5 per cent of infected persons were diagnosed, with nobody treated.
“To turn the tide, hepatitis services must move out of specialised clinics to decentralised and integrated facilities where most Africans still seek care. More primary health care workers need to be trained to diagnose and treat the virus,” said Mrs Moeti.
In a publication on its website, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that the world is currently facing a new outbreak of unexplained acute hepatitis infections affecting children.
It stated that the WHO in collaboration with scientists and policymakers in affected countries are investigating the cause of the new infection that appears different from the known five types of hepatitis viruses: A,B,C,D, and E.
“This new outbreak brings focus on thousands of acute viral hepatitis infections that occur among children, adolescents and adults every year.
“Most acute hepatitis infections cause mild disease and even go undetected. But in some cases, they can lead to complications and be fatal,” the report explained.
The global body added that an estimated 78,000 deaths occurred worldwide due to complications of acute hepatitis A to E infections in 2019.
These three types of chronic hepatitis infections are said to be responsible for over 95 per cent of hepatitis deaths. But while Africa has the guidance and tools to diagnose, treat, and prevent chronic viral hepatitis, the services are often out of reach of communities and are sometimes only available at centralised/specialised hospitals.
Meanwhile, the global health institution also noted that it prioritises the elimination of hepatitis infections B, C and D, which it said are responsible for over 95 per cent of hepatitis deaths.
WHO, however, said its major aim is to achieve hepatitis elimination globally by 2030, highlighting the specific targets that countries have to achieve.
The targets of the WHO include: to reduce new infections of hepatitis B and C by 90 per cent, reduce hepatitis-related deaths from liver cirrhosis and cancer by 65 per cent, ensure that at least 90 per cent of people with hepatitis B and C virus are diagnosed; and at least 80 per cent of those eligible receive appropriate treatment.
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