While the world seems to be drowning in the routine of infections, Covid-19 being the latest devourer, 500 million people are estimated to be infected with Hepatitis B or C worldwide according to the World Health Organization. These viruses kill 1.5 million people a year; 1 in every 3 people has been exposed to either or both B and C, while others suffer from alcoholic hepatitis. Unfortunately, most infected people are asymptomatic, that is, they have no or barely any symptoms of infection.
World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on 28th July to draw attention to the viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer.
This year’s (2021) World Hepatitis Day theme “Hepatitis Can’t Wait”, conveys the urgency of efforts needed to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat.
In Uganda, Hepatitis B infection is highly endemic according to findings from a national serosurvey. With a person dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis related illness, even in the current COVID-19 crisis – we cannot wait to act.
The Government of Uganda is however applauded for its efforts towards the fight against Hepatitis B. Over 23 million adults and adolescents have been screened for the disease across the country, while 17.6 million adults and adolescents have been successfully vaccinated against Hepatitis B since the mass vaccination campaign was rolled out in 2015 as reported by Ministry of Health, although the target still remains unmet. Vaccination for Hepatitis B is still ongoing in public health facilities across the country for persons above nineteen years of age.
This killer disease is commonly caused by viral infection, abuse of alcohol, drugs, toxins, autoimmune hepatitis (where anti-bodies form against your liver tissue), exposure to infected bodily fluids. You may lower the risk of getting hepatitis by avoiding risky behaviours, such as sharing needles, having unprotected sex and drinking large amounts of alcohol.
Treatment options vary depending on which type of hepatitis you have. Some forms of hepatitis can be prevented through vaccination and lifestyle precautions.
Most people have no symptoms. However, those who develop symptoms may have fatigue, nausea, fever, dark urine, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). In cases of Alcoholic hepatitis, an increase in stomach size due to fluid accumulation.
In escalated conditions one may experience liver failure, cancer or scarring.
A call goes out to global, regional, national leaders, policy makers, communities and other stakeholders to explore opportunities for accelerating the hepatitis response to achieve elimination by 2030.
The writer is a Communications Officer at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).