AS the World marks the Hepatitis Day on July 28, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has called on governments around the globe to step up awareness of viral hepatitis and increased access to testing and treatment of the disease. There are more people being infected by the disease globally than by Human immunodeficiency, Virus, HIV. This comes ahead of the World Hepatitis Day holding today. According to figures by the world health body, only one in 20 people with the viral hepatitis know they have it while just one in 100 people with the disease is treated. “The world has ignored hepatitis at its peril. It is time to mobilise a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generated to fight other communicable diseases like HIV-Aids and tuberculosis,” WHO’s director- general, Dr. Margaret Chan said. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through the use of contaminated blood and needles in healthcare facilities or among people who inject drugs, from unsafe sex and from infected mother and child. “We need to act now to stop people from dying needlessly from hepatitis. This requires a rapid acceleration of services and medicines for all the people in need,” Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO director of the HIV-Aids Department and Global Hepatitis Programme, said. The WHO says despite progress made in the treatment of hepatitis, including the introduction of a vaccine for hepatitis B, in some countries policies, regulations and high medicine prices mean many cannot afford the cure. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C; however, oral medicines, direct-acting antivirals see more than 90 percent of patients cured within two to three months. Quick facts from the health body shows that viral hepatitis affects around 400 million people globally; that about six-10 million people are newly infected every year; an estimated 1.45 million people die from the disease in 2013; about 90 percent of people with hepatitis do not know they are infected; over 90 percent of people with hepatitis C can be cured within three-six months; about 130-150 million people globally have chronic hepatitis C infection; significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop liver cirrhosis or liver cancer; about 700,000 people die annually from hepatitis C related liver diseases, and antiviral dication medicines can cure approximately 90 percent of persons with hepatitis C infections thereby reducing the risks of death from liver cancer related diseases. In 2016, about 194 countries adopted the first ever global health sector strategy on viral hepatitis with global targets. The strategy aims to treat eight million people from hepatitis B and C by 2020, to reduce new infections by 90 percent and cut the number of people dying of hepatitis by 65 percent by 2030. The second World Hepatitis Summit takes place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in March next year. Based on the information from world health leaders, coupled with the number of people known to us that have died or presently going through medication resulting from being infected with any of the types of hepatitis virus, it’s not only alarming but very disturbing; and this clearly suggests that there is indeed an urgent need to declare a national emergency, identify the immediate risk factor and rapidly develop a comprehensive plan to decisively deal with the pandemic. Going by the success and giant stride recorded in eradicating polio diseases in Nigeria by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, NPHCDA, under the leadership of Dr. Ado JG Mohammed, it’s very imperative that the Federal Ministry of Health comes to the rescue of millions of Nigerians with hepatitis disease, which many are yet to be aware of neither its implication. NPHCDA having the capacity and manpower through its Midwives Service Schemes, MSS, and availability of primary healthcare centres across the country should be given more logistic, technical and financial support in creating awareness and medication just as it successfully did with the case of polio meningitis, which is now a history in Nigeria. This can be achieved by making available vaccines and diagnostic test machines in rural health centres across the country. A coordinated national response in partnership with the state government is needed to launch a massive sensitisation and awareness campaign, effective and efficient surveillance and detection of infections so as to ensure control of these diseases which are posing major health challenge to our country and the people. It is now obvious with the fact figures from the WHO that there is an urgent need to expedite the development of massive diagnostic test centres in our hospitals and administration of the vaccines to protect every Nigerian now at risk. As the world marks Hepatitis Day today, I hope this will serve as a wakeup call to the current administration that while making effort to reduce corruption and improve the economy, the health of the citizens should not be compromised as larger proportion of Nigerians cannot afford medical tourism abroad. Yahaya wrote this piece from Jagbele Quarters, Muye, Niger State

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