By: Dolly Menas
Former health minister Bernard Haufiku says hepatitis B, C and E killed more people than HIV in the previous year. His words come as the world commemorated World Hepatitis Day on Thursday.
“We have spoken about HIV, we speak about Coronavirus, but we do not speak much about Hepatitis,” he says.
“Last year, more people died as a result of viral hepatitis than HIV, and it is an unknown fact,” Haufiku says.
The health ministry in March this year reported that as of 4 February 2022, a total of 8 092 Hepatitis E cases were reported, of which 2 124 or 26.2 per cent were laboratory confirmed and 4 738 or 58.6 per cent were epidemiologically linked to the confirmed cases.
A total of 1 230 cases, or 15.2 per cent, were classified as suspected cases. A total number of 2 435 specimens tested negative for Hepatitis E and were therefore discarded.
In the same month, health minister Kalumbi Shangula declared an end to Namibia’s four-year-long outbreak of the hepatitis E virus.
Haufiku added that people need to be made more aware of Hepatitis disease, especially Hepatitis B in Africa and Sub-Sahara Africa, as it is a hundred times more transmissible than HIV.
“This is one fact that people do not know,” he says.
Haufiku further said that hepatitis causes complications to the liver, such as liver cancer and liver cirrhosis, both of which are high risks of hepatitis.
He also said that hepatitis is a disease that can be prevented with simple measures. Despite that, the world carries close to 300 000 million people with hepatitis.
“That says something about our public health measures which should be strengthened to prevent the infection by the simple measure of washing hands, avoiding close contact with somebody and most crucially, vaccination of every child at birth,” Haufiku said.
Haufiku added that vaccination of children at birth is important because most people with liver cancer and cirrhosis are those who acquire the virus in the first five years of their lives.
Haufiku emphasised that world hepatitis day is a public message for pregnant mothers to be screened for hepatitis, especially B, which is 90 per cent of the viral hepatitis.
Hepatitis is transmitted through simple contact and genital fluid through sex, but most mothers do not know they have the virus and pass it on to their babies.
Haufiku also said that Hepatitis A is curable, C is curable over a long period of time with expensive measures, and hepatitis B, which is predominant, is treatable just like HIV, but one has to be on long-period medication.
“It is a simple routine check-up, and it is important for the doctor to check your blood for compatibility for public health’s sake and not just for your personal interest,” he says.
He added that If one finds that they have hepatitis, they should consult the doctor to monitor where they stand because they cannot just put anyone who tested positive on medication, there is a work-up.
“If put on treatment without knowing the level where you are, it will do more damage, and when put on medication, the risk of complications is highly reduced,” Haufiku says.
Hepatitis B and C lead to chronic diseases in hundreds and millions of people globally, and together, they are the most common causes of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and viral hepatitis-related deaths.
As of 2019, an estimated 116 million people in the western pacific are living with hepatitis B and ten million with hepatitis C.