Uganda is hosting the first ever African Hepatitis Summit. The summit is aimed at rallying partners and countries to eliminate Viral Hepatitis in Africa. The theme for the summit is, "Eliminating Viral Hepatitis in Africa; Implementing the Viral Hepatitis Strategy". The event which has brought together participants from over 25 countries, will provide an opportunity for countries to develop and work towards implementing action plans, sharing best practices and lessons learnt from each other in the fight against Viral Hepatitis.
In Africa, dying of viral hepatitis is becoming a bigger threat than dying of AIDS, Malaria or Tuberculosis. It is estimated that every year, 200,000 people die from the complications of viral hepatitis B and C mostly liver cancer in Africa. This is against a background that, 60 million people in this region were living with chronic hepatitis B infection as early as the year 2015, of which, 4.8 million are children under five years old. In addition, an estimated 10 million people are infected with hepatitis C, almost certainly due to unsafe injection practices.
In Uganda, according to the Uganda Population-based HIV Impact Assessment survey, (UPHIA, 2016), it is estimated that the prevalence of Viral Hepatitis B is at 4.1% in the population aged 15-64 years. The disease prevalence, however, varies from region to region with the highest prevalence in the North at 4.6% and the lowest in Southwest at 0.8%. While the actual prevalence of Viral Hepatitis C in Uganda is unknown, the data from the National Blood Bank indicates that the prevalence of Hepatitis C among blood donors in Uganda is approximately 1.5%.
To mitigate Hepatitis B prevalence, Uganda has embarked on producing the first line drugs recommended for treating Hepatitis B. This makes it one of the first countries in Africa to produce the medicines. This is being done by Cipla Quality Chemical Industries Ltd, a WHO-approved pharmaceutical manufacturer.
The opening of the summit was presided over by the Vice President of Uganda His Excellency Edward Ssekandi, who represented the President of Uganda and shared his remarks. In his remarks, the President informed the delegates that advocacy for vaccination against Viral hepatitis is at the forefront of his work, "I implored the Ministry of Health to immunize all adolescents and adults in the country and get rid of Hepatitis B and vaccination started in July 2015." He also added, "I have personally participated in mobilizing the masses to get vaccinated. However, it's important to sensitize people on the modes of transmission during such international events."
The Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, informed the delegates that the Government of Uganda adopted the World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions of 2010 and 2014 on viral hepatitis that recognize the disease as a public health problem.
She further revealed that the Ministry of Health established a Hepatitis Technical Working Group, which developed a strategic action plan for the elimination of Hepatitis B, a Vaccination plan to vaccinate adolescents and adults and Statutory instruments declaring Hepatitis B as a public health threat in Uganda. Another instrument in the plan makes vaccination of health workers against Hepatitis B mandatory.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative in Uganda, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam said that the WHO Regional Office for Africa established the Framework for Action for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis in the African Region (2016-2020). "This was designed to guide the Member States on the implementation of the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis which calls for the elimination of hepatitis by 2030," he said.
Dr Yonas further notified the delegates that WHO would provide measures against which to track the progress of the framework, "we designed a scorecard which will be presented at this summit. It provides vital information about the status of the regional hepatitis response while measuring progress against the WHO Framework for Action.
In order to reduce hepatitis Infections, the Government of Uganda also plans to screen all pregnant women for Viral Hepatitis B & C as well as introduce the Hepatitis B birth dose. This will help eliminate mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B and C infections.
The government will also continue with the systematic mass screening policy focused on most-at-risk populations like the prisoners, commercial sex workers, without forgetting refugee camps and communities hosting refugees. In addition, the government will strengthen and sustain injection, blood and surgical safety and universal precaution among health care workers.
Awareness creation on viral hepatitis will also be hastened by working with community groups and Civil Society Organizations (CSO) to increase opportunities to educate the population about viral hepatitis.
The summit is supported by the Ministry of Health, the WHO and the World Hepatitis Alliance. A high-level delegation from Egypt, led by the Minister of Health- Dr Hala Zayed and the WHO Representative in Egypt- Dr John Jabbour is also in attendance.
Other delegates present include participants from the pharmaceutical industry, WHO AFRO member states, CSOs, academia and the private sector.