Knowledge of viral hepatitis status critical

BY: Daily Graphic
File photo
File photo

Today, the world joins hands to commemorate World Hepatitis Day and to use the day to educate the public on hepatitis.

Knowledge, it is said, is power, and so comprehensive knowledge of a disease is necessary to prevent or fight it.

That is why July 28 is set aside annually to educate the public on the devastating effect of hepatitis and encourage those living with it to equip themselves with the requisite knowledge to manage it.

This year’s theme: “Bringing hepatitis care closer to you - Hep can’t wait”, aims at raising awareness of the need to simplify and bring hepatitis care to primary health facilities, community-based venues and locations beyond hospital sites, so that care gets closer to communities and people wherever they are.

This year, the new campaign theme: “I can’t wait”, seeks to highlight the need to accelerate the fight against viral hepatitis and the importance of testing and treatment for people who need it.

The campaign will amplify the voices of people affected by viral hepatitis and who are calling for immediate action and the end of stigma and discrimination.

Hepatitis denotes liver inflammation, which impedes its function of processing nutrients, filtering blood and fighting infections. It is primarily caused by hepatotropic viruses, resulting in similar clinical presentations.

Experts identify heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications and certain medical conditions as being inimical to effective liver function.

The viral hepatitis virus is found in blood and certain bodily fluids and is spread when a person who is not immune to it comes into contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person.

There are five types of hepatitis and their modes of spread are pretty similar – through contact with fluid or blood of an infected person.

However, the one that seems to be of health concern in Ghana is Hepatitis B, which is has a prevalence rate of 12.3 per cent.

Official figures from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) indicate that Hepatitis B has accounted for 820,000 deaths, with 6.6 million people on treatment in 2015 alone.

The condition contributes to 12.3 per cent of the country’s disease burden, with 1.5 million new infections per year.

Even though the prevalence rate is that one in every eight Ghanaians is infected with the hepatitis B virus, the Daily Graphic is consoled by the fact that Ghana has a national viral hepatitis control programme.

In fact, a national guideline for the prevention, care and treatment of viral hepatitis was developed in 2015 and relaunched in July 2019.

The day is being marked in Ghana with various activities, including free screening and vaccination against the virus.

It is gratifying to note that the GHS is stepping up its activities towards the elimination of viral hepatitis in the country.

It has started the implementation of a project to screen pregnant women for the condition and vaccinate them after delivery to curtail the spread of the virus.

The move is heartwarming and we wish to throw our weight behind it by encouraging all those who do not know their hepatitis status to take advantage of the day to undergo the screening, accept the immunisation and get protected.

Those diagnosed with the virus will receive expert advice from the medical team on the treatment to undergo in order to get healed.

It sounds reassuring that even though the disease is devastating, it is preventable through screening, immunisation and treatment.

Having the knowledge that a person has the virus is a step closer to dealing with it. The problem comes in when people get to know their status at a very late stage when the liver is damaged beyond repair.

Therefore, going through screening is crucial to enable those with the virus to kick-start treatment straightaway, following the directives from the experts.

Even though the disease has serious devastating effects, early screening and immunisation for the non-infected and the need for strict adherence to the recommended preventive measures by medical personnel for those carrying the virus are critical to fighting and containing it.

After all, it is obvious that getting infected is not a death warrant, and that infected persons can still live normal lives.