…about 20 million Nigerians are carriers of hepatitis
Viral hepatitis kills more people globally and in Nigeria than the deadly COVID-19 disease.
Globally, over 500 million people suffer from viral hepatitis and 4,000 people die daily from hepatitis and hepatitis-related illnesses.
Also, about 20 million Nigerians are working around with hepatitis virus without knowing their status, thereby infecting others.
This was disclosed by the President of Hepatitis Zero Nigerian Commission and representative to the African Union (AU), Dr. Mike Omotosho, on Monday in Abuja, during a press briefing to commemorate this year’s World Hepatitis Day, with the global theme ‘Hepatitis-Free Future’.
Omotosho said, “As scary as COVID-19 is, viral hepatitis kills more people than it. Over 500 million people globally suffer from hepatitis. Of this number, almost 1.4 million die every year globally – meaning almost 4,000 people die on a daily basis from hepatitis and hepatitis-related illnesses. Indeed, hepatitis is the Silent killer.
“However there is some good news because unlike COVID-19, hepatitis does have vaccines although not all. Also, unlike COVID-19, hepatitis does have treatment, even though not all results in permanent cure.
“The major problem is that a lot of people are not aware. It is so bad that when you talk to 10 people, each of them will have something to say about hepatitis but unfortunately it will be something bad. Most people do not know what hepatitis really is or even its symptoms, causes or prevention.
“Almost 20 million Nigerians are working around with the hepatitis virus. Also, less than 5 million of those people know their status.
“If you truly do not know your status, you may not be able to know what to do next. So, testing is very important. If a person gets tested and he or she is unfortunate that it is hepatitis B, there are luckily HIV management facilities, and some of those drugs are actually similar.
“So you can actually get some of those drugs free of charge – but it is management. If it is hepatitis C, there are treatments that will result in full cure within 90 days. Everything actually starts from knowing one’s status.
“Hepatitis can be contracted through unprotected sex, blood or bodily fluids, sharing of sharp objects, etc.”
He added, “According to the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest burden of viral hepatitis with a prevalence of 11 percent of Hepatitis B and 2.2 percent of Hepatitis C. Across the country, the male to female distribution varies and children are not spared. Cases of viral hepatitis are most commonly found among the age group of 21 to 40 years.
“In Nigeria, there is a strong relationship between HBV infection and various forms of Chronic Liver Disease (CLD), including chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Overall, the risk factors in Nigeria include local circumcision, local uvelectomy, and scarification on the body, tribal marks, surgical procedures, body piercing, delivery at home and receiving blood transfusion.”
Also speaking, the National Coordinator of the National AIDS and STDs Control Programme (NASCP), Dr. Akudo Ikpeazu, said, “Concerning the symptoms of viral hepatitis, it can be asymptomatic just like COVID-19. It is possible that the person shows absolutely no symptoms. That is why it is possible for so many people to be living with it without realising that they are living with it until after a while when the degenerative effects begin to show on the liver and the person begins to have secondary symptoms that are arising due to liver damage.
“The symptom could also be that the individual has a very transient jaundice, that is, the yellowing of the eyes, which shows that something is going on with the liver. Sometimes this happens in the initial phases of the infection and also tends to be transient. So, if the person is not observant, they may not notice that something has happened.
“Other symptoms could be some generalised gastro-intestinal symptoms which again may not be possible to link to hepatitis. The nature of viral hepatitis is such that it can come and pass and become a chronic infection without the person who has become infected knowing at all that they are infected. That is why we are asking everybody to go out and get tested.
“While it is important for people to know their status, especially when you’re going into a marriage relationship, you may not be able to constrain people to take a test because it is the decision that the individual has to make. There are some human right issues that are related and we will not be able to make it a compulsory thing for everybody. We only have to appeal to people and allow them to make a voluntary decision.”
Eliminating hepatitis by 2030 as contained in the SDGs, will require enduring innovation, better access to medicines, and improved health services. WHO’S new recommendation is that everybody should have access to hepatitis C testing and curative treatment and also global health communities should come together to officially begin moving towards the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030.
The Global Hepatitis Eradication Initiative is a Commission is therefore dedicated to a vision of a Hepatitis free world through advocacy, screening, prophylaxis and treatment. The commission is present in 196 countries around the world, including Nigeria where the project is driven by the Hepatitis Zero Nigerian Commission.