As Uganda marked the World Hepatitis Day on Friday, the body that brings together patients of the viral disease in Uganda to addressing the gaps in counselling, therapy as well as funding towards the reduction of Hepatitis, an estimated 3.5 million people are said to be carriers of the Hepatitis virus in Uganda with the Northern region and Teso sub region having the highest prevalence.
While speaking during a commemorative event held at the Makerere University Sports grounds in Kampala, Kenneth Kabagambe who heads the National Organization of People Living with Hepatitis said:
“Most of the people that have been tested don’t actually know that they have Hepatitis. There has been a huge gap in counselling because the medical personnel don’t have the right information to pass on to the patients once they have tested positive.”
He asked government to streamline the referral system so as to enable Hepatitis patients’ access treatment once they test positive.
“We do not have monotherapy in public health facilities. Even in Kirudu where the Hepatitis B clinic is, the doctors working on Hepatitis B patients still give them combined drugs which could have side effects in future,” Kabagambe pointed out.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently adopted an agenda to eliminate viral Hepatitis world over by 2030.
But Kabagambe says that without sustainable funding to the Central Public Hepatitis Lab (CPHL) and a scale up in vaccination especially in high risk groups, Uganda might not achieve this target.
“The viral load that the government is doing (5,000 tests) currently was a donation. What happens after these tests are consumed? We need sustainable funding using the existing HIV structures.”
A report released by WHO in 2015, placed the number of people infected with chronic Hepatitis B virus at 325 million and of these, 70 million were in Africa. In the same year, 136,000 deaths due to Hepatitis were recorded in Africa.
On his part, Dr. Kaggwa Mugaga, the Country Advisor on HIV and Hepatitis on behalf of WHO underscored the need to prevent mother to child transmission of Hepatitis through birth dose vaccination. Unfortunately, this dose is yet to be introduced in Uganda.
Dr. Charles Olaro, the Director of Clinical Service in the Ministry of Health who presided over as chief guest in response to the concerns raised said government is considering to adopt a Hepatitis referral system similar to that of HIV. To that effect, he said resources have already been committed.
In regard to the WHO recommended immunization at birth, Dr. Olaro revealed: “As a country, we are waiting for the Advisory Committee on Vaccines to give its recommendations on the first dose for Hepatitis within the first 72 hours.”
Hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the liver tissue and Acute hepatitis can sometimes resolve on its own, progress to chronic hepatitis which may progress to scarring of the liver, liver failure, or liver cancer.
There are five main types of viral hepatitis including type A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis A and E are mainly spread by contaminated food and water, sexually transmitted, at birth and through infected blood such as may occur during needle sharing.