Windhoek — More than a year since Namibia experienced Hepatitis E, which led to it being declared an outbreak last December, health officials and relevant stakeholders are called for the redoubling of efforts to contain the disease.
Minister of Health and Social Services (MOHSS), Dr Bernard Haufiku, said last week that statistics are "scary" and it cannot be business as usual if the disease is to be contained. "The statistics are not impressive; they are scary," remarked Haufiku when he handed over of supplies to strengthen laboratory capacity of Hepatitis E. With the festive season in sight, the minister emphasised that the message on prevention needs to be disseminated more than ever. "December is a season for weddings and movement - and those are fertile grounds for the disease," he said. What started off in the informal settlements of Havana and Goreanagab is now a national problem, he stated.
As of November 23, the MOHSS reported over 4 000 cases of Hepatitis E with 34 deaths - of which 45 percent of the total deaths were pregnant women. "We now have to be in the regions while also attending to the problem at the epicenter," the minister commented.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative, Dr Charles Sagoe-Moses, says there is active transmission of the Hepatitis E virus in most parts of the country, as there are still weekly cases being reported.
"A comprehensive, systematic, and sustained community engagement plan is critical if we are to turn the tide in this outbreak," says Sagoe-Moses.
He stresses the importance of spreading the message on handwashing and other hygiene promotion activities at household and individual levels through community health volunteers and community leaders.
"Our initial response, especially in Havana and Goreangab, taught us the importance of consulting and engaging communities affected by the outbreak if our investment in containing the outbreak is to be successful and sustained," says the WHO country representative.
Since the outbreak, the WHO has committed close to N$3 million to support the Ministry of Health and Social Services to intensify the efforts in containing the disease. It also provided support to the Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) to support the Ministry of Health and Social Services by testing people locally for Hepatitis E. The support provided to NIP for reagents is worth N$173 665. To date, tests for Hepatitis E virus were sent to South Africa, which, according to Sagoe-Moses, delayed results of the tests, and impacted on the timely reporting of new confirmed Hepatitis E cases.
Also speaking at the event was the Acting CEO of NIP, Mekondjo Nghipandulwa, who said that the Hepatitis E reagents and testing supplies will be used locally at the Windhoek Central Reference Laboratory.
"After the initial outbreak of Hepatitis E in Namibia, our Windhoek Central Reference Laboratory referred all Hepatitis E tests to LANCET laboratories in South Africa.
NIP evaluated two rapid tests that performed very well and were subsequently approved for local use. After the test kits were approved, NIP started performing Hepatitis E tests locally," explained Nghipandulwa.