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Real life struggles with hepatitis, liver cancer

BY: Hadiza Nuhhu-Billa Quansah
Early testing for Hepatitis is very important

WORLD Hepatitis Day is observed each year on July 28 to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, which causes inflammation of the liver that leads to severe disease and liver cancer.Currently, the world is facing a new outbreak of unexplained acute hepatitis infections affecting children. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO), scientists and policymakers in affected countries are working to understand the cause of this infection that does not appear to belong to any of the known five types of hepatitis viruses: A,B,C,D and E. We bring you the struggles some patients went through in Ghana to survive.

Joseph’s story Joseph woke up one day with severe bodily pains and a high blood pressure. He thought he had malaria until he was asked to do a random blood sugar test which indicated he was diabetic.

Unknown to his wife, long before they met, Joseph was diagnosed of having Hepatitis B during his university days when he decided to donate blood to his cousin. Upon a series of tests, his hepatitis condition came to light so doctors started treating him for both diabetes and hepatitis.
After a while, Joseph’s legs started swelling so a doctor asked that he should do a liver test.

Unfortunately, the test result was inconclusive so a second one was conducted. “The second test revealed that there was a cancer cell on the liver. No one could tell when it all started but all they could tell us was that there was a growth and so we needed to go to the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital to do a biopsy.

The result indicated there was cancer,” he said. With these results, Joseph was asked if he could get a liver donor. That person had to be a family relation. “The difficulty was how to break the news to Joseph’s family and also urge any of his siblings to donate a liver to save their brother,” says Emelia, the wife of Joseph, who had to bear the cross to the end.

According to Emelia, her husband was the bread winner of his family; however, when his siblings and other relatives were asked to donate a liver they all refused. “They said Joseph was a selfish person to be demanding a liver donation from the family.

For them, people are able to donate their kidney but not a liver,” Emelia said. As getting a donor became very tough, one doctor advised that they give Joseph some alcohol laser treatment to improve his liver function.

The first laser treatment was done at Korle Bu and the second followed after a month. However, Joseph’s condition started getting bad. This made him resign from work and he later used some money from his investment to partner some friends so he can have regular income to pay his medical bills.

‘One day I returned from work and met my husband lying on the bed in his suit. He looked very sick. His driver
later told me he had been throwing up most of the day. I quickly called his doctor at Korle Bu but there was no bed. We stayed home until we were called to bring him,” Emelia recounted.

Emelia said while on admission and in coma, his siblings and other family relations were planning to take him to their home town for herbal treatment, which she had read could be detrimental to his health. “Joseph regained consciousness on the eighth day on admission so the doctors said if he got a donor and went to Germany or India he would be saved. While on admission, it was detected that his blood level had also dropped so we had to search for donors.

Fortunately, some Good Samaritans came our way,” she added. Immediately Joseph was discharged, they mobilised some funds through friends and corporate bodies and went to Germany. Emelia stated: “In German, they decided to cleanse his blood and liver while we searched for a donor. We went there in December and they told us point blank that if we don’t get a liver by February he will die.”

As the hotel bills started piling up, Joseph and Emelia left Germany for Ghana. While in Ghana his condition started deteriorating again and he needed another blood transfusion. “Interestingly, my friend’s 26-year-old son who was O+ one day approached us and said he would like to donate his liver.

I asked him to go and read and think about it first. He did and was willing to do it for free,” Emelia said. Emelia and Joseph had to sell some of their properties and solicited additional funds and travelled to India instead with the donor. In all, they needed US$300,000 for the treatment in India since Germany was much more expensive. Joseph had a successful liver transplantin 2015. Afterwards, he lived for four years and four months. His donor is alive and healthy.

Binka’s story
Binka is a 30-year-old investment banker who was diagnosed with hepatitis 13 years ago. According to him, a friend of his who was very healthy passed away. “We all know that my friend drinks but when he wasn’t feeling well, we all thought he had malaria. It was later I got to know it was hepatitis and that made me go and also check.” Binka took a test in 2009 and it came out that he had Hepatitis B.

He was told there was nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, the beginning of his journey for treatment has been full of extortion and lack of adequate information on the virus. “The doctor at that time told me it was just like typhoid fever so I shouldn’t worry. I wasn’t given any medication nor my results to take home.

I also left the hospital ignorantly,” he said. In 2019, Binka decided to go back to the same doctor for another test. He was asked to pay GH¢7,000. He pleaded with the doctor to reduce the cost but he didn’t.

“I later parted with additional GH¢5,000 and GH¢3,000 yet never saw my results at the private hospital. In fact, I paid a lot of money to this doctor yet he had little to tell me so I decided to go on the Internet to read further,” Binka said. Having gained fresh knowledge on Hepatitis, he decided to go to MDS-Lancetto do all the tests again.

“Would you believe I paid around just GHC1,000? As a patient I believed in the doctor but all he did was extort money from me because he knew I was capable of paying?” he asked. Binka decided to do his own tracing and realised that he was born with Hepatitis. According to him, two of his siblings who were born at home just like him have the virus while those who were born in the hospital do not have it.
He is married with two children who are all very healthy.

He started taking medication a year ago because his viral load had shot up to about 15,000. “Taking of medication is at the discretion of your doctor and your immune system,” he said. Binka is very careful about the food he eats. “I don’t remember the last time I took fizzy drinks. I take only pure honey and refrain from eating fatty foods. I have cut alcohol and other herbal concoctions to preserve my liver. Your lifestyle really matters.”

Musah’s Story
After suspecting something was wrong for a while, Musah’s mother passed away without a diagnosis or treatment. It wasn’t until 10 years later when Musah tested positive for Hepatitis B and experienced the same symptoms that he realised his mom had suffered from thesame virus.

Musah is now managing his Hepatitis B and receiving treatment but he is concerned about the low awaren s of Hepatitis B in the country.
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