No fewer than 21 million Nigerians living with viral hepatitis do not know they are infected, and this places them at greater risk for severe, even fatal, complications from the disease and increasing the likelihood for them to spread the virus to others.
Meanwhile, as scary as COVID-19 may seem, Hepatitis kills more people than covid-19.
President of the Hepatitis Zero Commission and Representative to African Union, Dr Mike Omotosho who disclosed this at a briefing to mark the World Hepatitis Day 2020 yesterday in Abuja, said viral hepatitis is a silent killer and a major cause of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer in Nigeria.
He noted that the prevalence of hepatitis on a global scale is staggering as the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 325 million people live with viral hepatitis B and C, whle an estimated 2.8 million people were infected in 2018 alone.
Omotosho stated that 1.4 million people die globally of Hepatitis and Hepatitis related illnesses every year while 4000 people die on daily basis to Hepatitis globally.
According to him, the risk factors in Nigeria include local circumcision, local uvelectomy, and scarification on the body, tribal marks, surgical procedures, body piercing, delivery at home and receiving blood transfusion.
Omotosho observed that most people living with hepatitis lacked access to testing and vaccination, which are preventive measures, and now lack access to treatment and called on government at all levels to commit more funds to bridge the yawning financial gap and barriers to enable every Nigerian access free testing and vaccination in order to create a future free of hepatitis.
He said, “According to the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest, burden of viral hepatitis with a prevalence of 11% of Hepatitis B and 2.2% of Hepatitis C. Across the country, the male to female distribution varies and children are not spared. Cases of viral hepatitis are most commonly found among the age group of 21 to 40 years. In Nigeria, there is a strong relationship between HBV infection and various forms of Chronic Liver Disease (CLD), including chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Omotosho lamented that the level of knowledge of viral hepatitis remains low amongst Nigerians despite the fact that it is a leading infectious cause of death adding that with just three doses of vaccine, one is protected from Hepatitis for the next 30 years
He noted that eliminating hepatitis by 2030 as contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will require enduring innovation, better access to medicines, and improved health services. WHO’s new recommendation is that everybody should have access to hepatitis C testing and curative treatment and also global health communities should come together to officially begin moving towards the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030.