Viral Hepatitis: specialist says awareness, access to care, remain challenges

Dr Celement Adesigbin, a public health specialist with the National AIDS/STIS Control Programme (NASCP), Federal Ministry of Health says the major challenges of viral hepatitis remains awareness creation and access to care and treatment.

Adesigbin, who is also the National Desk Officer, NASCP, spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Abuja.

He said there was lack of awareness about prevalence of chronic viral hepatitis in Nigeria in addition to lack of proper methods and target population for screening and medical management of chronic hepatitis B and C.

Adesigbin said this probably contributed to the continued transmission of the disease.

He said there was also relatively poor awareness about the infections among health-care providers, social-service providers, and the general public.

Adesigbin said there was availability of a preventive vaccine and active antiviral treatments that stopped the disease progression and reduced the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma.

“But in spite of this, hepatitis B is still a major public health problem,” he said.

Adesigbin said that the ministry and World Health Organisation (WHO) were leading other stakeholders to create more awareness on viral hepatitis and give nationwide visibility to eliminate the deadly disease in Nigeria.

He said that Nigeria had a high burden of Viral hepatitis B and C at a prevalence rate of 11 per cent and 2.1 per cent respectively.

Adesigbin said WHO supported Nigeria to develop and launch a national policy, strategic plan, treatment guidelines and training documents for viral hepatitis.

“Lagos, Taraba, Rivers, Nassarawa have also established a state-level programmes to tackle the disease among the states’ residents.

“The country has high hepatitis B virus vaccination coverage among children although birth-dose coverage is sub-optimal.

“Screening and vaccination coverage among adults remains unsatisfactorily low.

“This is due to a lack of awareness among the general populace and health workers, low coverage of testing facilities, high cost of laboratory investigations and medications for those needing treatment,” he said.

Adesigbin said the Federal Government was committed to making available hepatitis preventive and treatment services in all health care facilities.

He called on the media to scale up dissemination of correct hepatitis information for widespread enlightenment.

Adesigbin said the purpose for the policy was to develop the backbone of Nigeria’s strategy for the prevention and control of viral hepatitis.

He said that the goal for the policy was to also reduce the morbidity, mortality and associated socio economic impact of viral hepatitis in Nigeria.

The national desk officer said that all the policy documents had also been disseminated across the country in soft and hard copies.

He said that the cost of diagnosis “viral load” had been drastically reduced to N10, 000 in some states with the support of partners.

“We hope to improve access to hepatitis B and C medications at globally accepted prices working with states.

“We are also improving our surveillance system to improve tracking of interventions,” Adesigbin said. (NAN)

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