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WHO urges robust measures to reduce hepatitis burden in Africa

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday called on African governments and partners to roll out robust interventions aimed at reducing the burden of hepatitis disease in the continent.

Olufunmilayo Lesi, communicable diseases specialist at WHO Regional Office for Africa, said hepatitis has emerged as a major public health threat in Africa.

Lesi Olufunmilayo, Viral Hepatitis Officer for the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa | Coastweek   "The burden of viral hepatitis in Africa is huge, but we must harness the power of technology, knowledge and public awareness to accelerate progress towards its elimination," Lesi told a media briefing in Nairobi.

WHO statistics show that more than 200,000 people in Africa die from complications linked to hepatitis B and C, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, every year.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 60 million people are living with hepatitis B and an additional 11 million are infected with hepatitis C.

The two lethal strains of hepatitis that are transmitted through contaminated fluids can be contained through vaccination, screening of donated blood and improved hygienic practices, Lesi said.

"Blood safety, political commitment and domestic investments in hepatitis diagnosis, treatment and care is key to prevent deaths," she said.

African countries in 2016 adopted a four-year master plan to boost prevention, treatment and care of viral hepatitis.

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Lesi Olufunmilayo, Viral Hepatitis Officer for the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa speaks during the launch of Viral hepatitis scorecard, in Nairobi. Deaths due to viral hepatitis in Africa are becoming a bigger threat than deaths due to AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. XINHUA PHOTO - CHARLES ONYANGO
Lesi said massive investments, combined with reforms in public health sector, are required to speed up the elimination of hepatitis in Africa.

"Country-specific action plans for controlling hepatitis infections should be implemented with urgency, and modern diagnostic tools are needed to help detect different strains of the disease to inform treatment," she said.

Capacity-building for health workers and awareness campaigns is key to strengthening response to high rate of hepatitis infection among high-risk groups like intravenous drug users, Lesi said.


Africa’s first ever Hepatitis summit opens in Uganda

KAMPALA (Xinhua) -- Health experts from Africa and international organizations are meeting in Uganda’s capital of Kampala for the first ever Africa Hepatitis Summit aimed at devising means of fighting the disease on the continent.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, while opening the three-day meeting on Tuesday, said African countries have the potential to address health challenges including ending the viral hepatitis diseases

"I am glad to hear that the ministers of health from Africa, representatives of World Health Organization (WHO), World Hepatitis Alliance, African Union and the pharmaceutical companies are here to address this important issue of viral hepatitis in Africa and globally," Museveni said in a statement read for him by Vice President Edward Ssekandi.

Museveni said Uganda is one of the first countries in Africa to undertake the manufacture of Hepatitis B (HBV) medicines.

He said the manufacturer Cipla Quality Chemical Industries Ltd is also embarking on manufacturing medicines for the treatment of Hepatitis C (HCV).

"These efforts showcase the role that public and private partnerships can play in increasing access to hepatitis medicines and ensuring affordable, quality pharmaceuticals made in Africa for African patients."

Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s minister of health told the meeting held under the theme, "Eliminating Viral Hepatitis in Africa; Implementing the viral hepatitis strategy", said countries should borrow best practices and lessons learnt in the successful fight against HIV.

Aceng said the World Health Assembly made resolutions in 2010 and 2014 that recognized viral hepatitis as a public health problem and the need for governments and populations to take action to prevent, diagnose and treat it.

She said Uganda adopted the resolutions and set up a Hepatitis Technical Working Group, which has devised means of fighting the disease in the country.

She said Uganda has made tremendous strides towards elimination of the viral disease.

Among the successes include among others introduction of routine childhood pentavalent vaccine against HBV, screening of all donated blood, introduction of non-reusable injection devices and vaccinating populations in affected areas among others.

Aceng said government is prioritizing carrying out a nationwide sero-survey to ascertain the actual prevalence of HCV.

She said government plans to screen all pregnant women for HBV and HCV as well as introduce the HBV birth does in a bid to reduce new viral hepatitis infections.

According to WHO, viral hepatitis is highly endemic in the Africa, which contributes significantly to the global burden of the disease.

Data by the global health body showed that an estimated 325 million people are living with chronic HBV or HCV infection.



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