2 August 2016

Liberia: Responding to the Hepatitis Epidemic - What Is Liberia's Public Health Sector Waiting For?

editorial

It has been well over 10 years since this government came to power, yet there is so much lacking in the public health sector, including treatment of hepatitis.

Last Thursday Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Africa Regional Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), issued a public statement on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day, calling attention to what he described as the "highly widespread public health problem in the Africa Region, viral hepatitis."

He described it as an infection of the liver caused by distinct hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D and E). All five hepatitis viruses can cause severe disease, but the highest numbers of deaths result from liver cancer and cirrhosis--a condition in which there is irreversible scaring of the liver. This occurs after several years of chronic hepatitis B or C infection.

Director Moeti revealed that hepatitis B affects an estimated 100 million people worldwide; and in the Africa Region a staggering 19 million adults are chronically infected with hepatitis C. But, he added, most people with chronic viral hepatitis "are not aware of their infection and do not receive appropriate treatment."

Here is where we think Liberia's health authorities need to undertake their own hepatitis awareness campaign, in order to reach out to those of our citizens and residents who may be afflicted by the disease and are yet unaware of it.

The health authorities need to initiate, as soon as possible, a conversation among health and medical personnel in the country, to devise a strategy somehow to find hepatitis C victims who may be unaware that they are victims, and see what can be done to cure them.

The John F. Kennedy Medical Center, Liberia's leading referral hospital has until now not a single hepatitis machine. This has prevented many Liberians living abroad who are suffering from hepatitis from returning home because they and their relatives are afraid that once they arrive here, they would soon die due to the lack of appropriate medical equipment to respond to their condition.

What is JFK waiting for to get this equipment? Well, since we seem to be perpetually dependent on our "foreign partners" for most things--and Heaven knows when we will become a truly independent country--let us approach WHO for some of this equipment.

Regional WHO Director Moeti called on international partners, civil society and other United Nations missions and the private sector to advocate for adequate domestic investments and to mobilize external funding for the viral hepatitis response in the African Region.

He ended his statement by pledging the WHO's support to Member States "to implement the hepatitis strategy." Liberia's health authorities should therefore approach WHO through Director Moeti to see how they may be able to help us in our strategy to fight hepatitis, including donating some appropriate equipment that will prepare the JFK and other leading medical institutions to respond to the hepatitis challenge.

We further urge the JFK to expand its ongoing modernization program by acquiring and installing modern equipment in the Dental Department, in order to bring it on par with other such departments in the sub-region.

MOH and JFK should also make sure to send the hospital's technicians to the manufacturers of all equipment being purchased or donated, so that when things go wrong, they may be able and ready to repair them.

And as the current Director of the Dental Department, Dr. Ayele Ajavon Cox, has already past the retirement age, it behooves the JFK administration to launch a vigorous search not only for her successor but other Liberian dentists for that Department and other dental clinics around the country.

Liberia

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