'This Is No Time to Neglect Hepatitis in Africa'

In 2021, World Hepatitis Day is marked under the theme "Hepatitis Can't Wait". It is a clear call to improve efforts towards eliminating a disease that globally kills one person every 30 seconds.

Many African countries that committed to eliminating the disease have either not ratified their guidelines or not increased access to hepatitis care. Of the 47 countries in the WHO Africa region, 28 have developed national plans to eliminate the disease. However, only 13 countries have disseminated them. 

The childhood vaccine given at birth is effective, but in many rural and remote parts of Africa over 40% of children are still unable to get the vaccines when they need them. Reasons for this include erratic vaccine supplies and outdated vaccination schedules. These challenges have been further compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has eroded some of the gains that had been made in the past few years. With movement restrictions and social distancing as part of the responses to curb the spread of infections, people have been less able to use services to prevent and cure hepatitis and other diseases.

In Africa, 70 million people are infected and 200,000 die annually from hepatitis. This is despite the availability of treatment. There are different forms of hepatitis - A, B, C, D, and E - each attributed to a different type of virus. Unfortunately, most people who have the most serious forms of the disease, particularly the B and C viruses, are unaware of the infection. This allows the infection to spread unchecked, leading to serious damage to the liver.

In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) set an ambitious target to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. This was followed by commitments from governments - including African countries - to develop national strategic plans for viral hepatitis and earmark resources to eliminate the disease.

InFocus

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