Hepatitis fight has been challenging — Okyeame Kwame

By: Linda Safoa Antwi
Okyeame Kwame says Hepatitis fight has been challenging
Okyeame Kwame

ELEVEN years ago, Hiplife musician Okyeame Kwame decided to shine the light on Hepatitis B, a disease which although deadly, had not been given much attention and there was little to no awareness about it.

That fight against Hepatitis was kick-started after he kept falling sick and decided to seek medical attention. Out of all the tests that he had to do, the most expensive one was for Hepatitis B which cost GH¢40 at that time.

“I just thought to myself that if I am the Artiste of the Year and I find it difficult paying this amount, how can the woman selling yam on the street to cater for her children pay this amount. So my doctor and another doctor, Dr Kwasi Appiah, and myself decided to form the OK Foundation.

“We started researching on Hepatitis and decided to embark on an awareness campaign, as well as free screening to help those who couldn’t afford it through our own resources,” he told Showbiz recently when asked what his motivation was.

While he has been able to sustain this project for over a decade and is in his 11th year, the journey has certainly not been easy.

“I remember when we started this project, the first place we went to was the Takoradi Market Circle. At that time, my car had these big and shiny rims and so when we set up, some of the people who didn’t believe it was a health screening said I was a ‘sakawa’ guy who was coming to draw people’s blood for rituals.

“Another challenge we had was that because we were driven by passion for screening,  when we screened the people and some turned out positive, we didn’t refer them to any hospital or put them on any medication so the Ghana Health Service got agitated because most of the NGOs where doing the same thing, so they had to come up with a policy guideline on what to do.

“There are also some years that I didn’t have money to do this but I have to find some and sponsor it; it’s hard to get sponsorship because now because everyone is crying. If you are not able to feed yourself and go to the hospital, it’s very hard to support an NGO.

“And it’s very difficult when we go to the universities; young people don’t want to do the screening because of the stigma that Hepatitis B is spread through sex, which is not exactly true,” he said.

So far, Okyeame Kwame and the OK Foundation have been able to screen about 10,000 people and hope to screen another 3,000 by the time the year ends. Over the years, they have added free vaccines to their project as well.

As a key stakeholder in this campaign against Hepatitis and working closely with the Ghana Health Service, Okyeame Kwame is cautious on answering questions about whether we are winning the fight against the disease or not.

“I cannot say we are winning or losing but I will say we have been able to maintain the prevalence rate. Ten years ago, the rate was between 10 and 15 per cent with one out of six persons infected with Hepatitis B, and now it is between 10 and 14 per cent depending on the social class of the person, the place, the availability of awareness and things like that,” he disclosed.

World Hepatitis Day is observed on July 28 annually and while Okyeame Kwame usually holds his screenings on that day, this year, in collaboration with Graphic Showbiz and MDS Lancet Laboratories, he is doing it tomorrow, Friday, July 26 in Tema at the car park of the Tema Metropolitan Assembly from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The screening will be done by personnel from MDS Lancet Laboratories and there will be a doctor on hand who will educate the people about the disease and give subsequent counselling to those who will be screened, whether their status is negative or positive. Free vaccines will also be given to those who test negative.

Okyeame Kwame urged the government to find a way of adding the vaccine for Hepatitis to the shots that babies get at birth.

“The easiest mode of transmission is from mother to child so we need to find a way to add it to the Seven Killer Diseases so that immediately the child is born, he or she gets vaccinated and will never get the disease.

“Another thing we should do is to find a way to embark on free screening and vaccination in homes, beginning from the rural areas, while considering adding Hepatitis treatment to the National Health Insurance Scheme,” he said.

He expressed appreciation to MDS Lancet Laboratories, the MTN Ghana Foundation and the Ghana Health Service for all the support he had received and also urged people to get tested.