The World Health Organisation observes that hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world.
According to the organisation, viral hepatitis affects more than 400 million people globally and, given the size of the epidemic, anyone and everyone can be at risk.
Analysts, nonetheless, observe that in spite of the danger it poses to life, more than 95 per cent of people with hepatitis are unaware of their infection.
Concerned about the prevalence of the disease and the need to create awareness, the organisation dedicated every July 28 to raise global awareness on hepatitis, encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
With the theme: “Know hepatitis – Act now’’, stakeholders in health sector believe the observance of the day is an opportunity to step up national and international methods of fighting the disease.
In the light of the expectations of the stakeholders, the organisation “urge partners and member states to support the roll-out of the first Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis from 2016 to 2021, which was approved during the 69th World Health Assembly in May 2016.
“The new strategy introduces the first-ever global targets for viral hepatitis. These include a 30 per cent reduction in new cases of hepatitis B and C, and a 10 per cent reduction in mortality by 2020.’’
The organisation explains that there are hepatitis viruses referred to as types A, B, C, D and E, posing a serious health challenge because of the burden of illness and death they cause.
“In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer,’’ it observes.
According to the organisation, acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, among others.
Calling for a pragmatic approach to fight the disease, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in U.S. observes that viral hepatitis is among the top 10 infectious disease killers worldwide with more than one million people dying each year.
“These deaths are primarily from cirrhosis or liver cancer caused by hepatitis B and hepatitis C, chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C cause approximately 80 per cent of the world’s liver cancer,’’ it notes.
Expressing worry about what he described as inadequate awareness about the disease, Dr David Olusegun President Viral Hepatitis Association of Nigeria said that more than 12 per cent of Nigerians were infected with hepatitis.
Olusegun said that the mode of contracting the disease was similar to way a person was infected with HIV.
“A lot of patients who are HIV positive are also hepatitis positive because the mode of transmission is the same,’’ he said.
He, however, said that there was vaccination against hepatitis A and B but there was no vaccination against hepatitis C for now.
“Hepatitis A is a not big issue for an adult. Because the way hepatitis A is transmitted is through oral or fecal route. If a person is unhygienic he could be infected with hepatitis A.
“A change of diet could help in treating hepatitis A; it is hepatitis B and C that is major focus here.
“Hepatitis C is what leads to cancer of the liver and with doses of vaccination against hepatitis B; a person could not be infected even after having sex with a carrier of the virus,’’ he said.
He advised Nigerians to go for correct medical screening for hepatitis B and C with their health provider and if the person is negative for hepatitis B, he should be vaccinated immediately.
“This is because hepatitis kills faster than HIV and AIDs. Nonetheless, unlike HIV, as soon as you are vaccinated, you are free to live your life,’’ he said.
He lauded the efforts of government in the fight against the disease, admitting that government, through the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, had provided free paediatric vaccines for children.
Olusegun called on parents to ensure that their children completed the routine immunization, insisting that “hepatitis has killed a lot of Nigerians, we need to wake up and do something to educate our family members and the community.’’
Sharing the same view, Dr Safiya a medical practitioner with Wuse General Hospital, Abuja, advised Nigerians to embrace regular health check to know their hepatitis status.
Ojo observed that many people were still ignorant of the risk associated with the disease, saying that it is infectious.
“Unchecked hepatitis had the potential to destroy the liver and end a person’s life; hepatitis A and E usually acute and often cleared after a supportive treatment while hepatitis B and C often progress from acute to chronic stage,’’ Ojo explained.
She explained that because they were transmitted in the same way as HIV, the preventative measures for hepatitis B and C were the same.
“People should avoid sharing blades, needles, clippers, even for females that do manicure or pedicure, they need to be careful and ensure they get their own’’, she advised.
The doctor called on parents to ensure that their children were immunised to prevent contracting hepatitis and other childhood killer diseases.
She also advised people who did not get the vaccine in childhood and did not get infected with the virus, to urgently get tested and immunised.
“We advise that even if you do not have any symptoms, just go and get tested and immunised because by the time you start having symptoms, it might be too late to do anything.
“The important thing is if you are found to have contracted hepatitis B or C during a routine screening, look for a specialist immediately,’’ she said.
According to her, Nigerians should educate themselves on health matters because it is the best way to protect one’s health.
Medical experts however say that education and public enlightenment will make the difference in the fight against hepatitis.
Concerned citizens, therefore solicit pragmatic methods of sensitising the public to the dangers of hepatitis during the observance of the World Hepatitis Day.(NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)