The World Health Organisation (WHO) new score card has revealed that hepatitis has recently become the most deadly killer in Africa than the HIV and AIDS scourge, malaria or Tuberculosis.
The rate card went on to reveal that in the African region, only three of the 47 countries are on track to eliminate the disease that affects one in 15 people in the region.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Doctor Matshidiso Moeti said this score card will be presented at the first African Hepatitis Summit to be held in Kampala, Uganda today.
“This analysis is the first to track each country in the region and to assess progress towards the goal of saving the lives of more than two million Africans who may develop progressive hepatitis B or C liver disease in the next decade if countries fail to ramp up their efforts,” said Dr Moeti.
The score card provides vital information about the status of the regional hepatitis response, measuring progress against the Framework for Action for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis in the African Region (2016–2020).
It was created as a guide for member states on the implementation of the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis, which calls for the elimination of hepatitis by 2030 (defined as a 90% reduction in new cases and 65% reduction in deaths).
Every year, more than 200 000 people in Africa die from complications of viral hepatitis B and C-related liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Sixty million people in the WHO Africa Region were living with chronic hepatitis B infection in 2015.
More than 4.8 million of them are children under five years old. A further 10 million are infected with hepatitis C, most likely due to unsafe injection practices within health facilities or by communities.
The analysis shows that 28 countries have developed a national hepatitis strategic plan for viral hepatitis; however, most are still in draft form with only 13 officially published and disseminated.
WHO has been a major partner in the regional response with policy development and provision of technical and financial support as well as capacity building for a co-ordinated regional response.
Only 15% (7/47) countries are leading prevention efforts with national coverage of both Hepatitis B birth dose and childhood pentavalent vaccination exceeding 90%.
There are major gaps in hepatitis testing and treatment with less than eight countries providing subsidized testing and treatment for viral hepatitis.
“Uganda has superb lessons to share, and we support these important exchanges as they are helping to build evidence-based policies and promoting partnerships for more concerted action against viral hepatitis across the region. They are showing us that beating this disease is achievable,”Dr Moeti added.
The hepatitis B vaccine is the mainstay of hepatitis B prevention. WHO recommends that all infants receive the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours.
Routine infant immunization against hepatitis B has increased globally with an estimated coverage (third dose) of 84% in 2017.
The low prevalence of chronic HBV infection in children under five years of age, estimated at 1.3% in 2015, can be attributed to the widespread use of hepatitis B vaccine.
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