Zim Launches Viral Hepatitis Program

ZIMBABWE has launched a National Viral Hepatitis program to tackle hepatitis infections known to cause liver inflammation and damage.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

The inflammation is swelling that occurs when tissues of the body become injured or infected. Inflammation can damage organs. Researchers have discovered several different viruses that cause hepatitis, including hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.

Speaking at the launch, acting health secretary Dr Gibson Mhlanga called on stakeholders to develop a strategy to deal with this rising epidemic.

“We desire to catch up with the global community in bringing this rising epidemic (viral hepatitis) under control.

“I call upon all stakeholders to put their heads together and come up with a national strategy that tackles this somewhat neglected public health challenge of viral hepatitis,” he said.

World Health Organisation Zimbabwe Country Representative Dr Alex Gasasira commended Zimbabwe for setting this program.

“I would like to congratulate the Ministry of Health and Child Care for taking ground breaking actions to set up a National Viral Hepatitis program for Zimbabwe,” he said adding that this move puts the nation among the pioneers in Africa to, “set up a National Viral Hepatitis for the prevention and treatment of this important public health disease.”

Dr Gasasira also said that it was important to come up with such an initiative which as deadlier as the dreaded HIV.

“Viral Hepatitis is an important international public health challenge, comparable to other major communicable diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria,” he said. e “Despite the significant burden it places on communities across all global regions, Hepatitis has been largely ignored as a health and development priority until recently.”

According to the WHO Fact Sheet on Viral Hepatitis the epidemic of viral Hepatitis B and C affects 325 million people globally and is 10 times larger than the global HIV epidemic. “Every day, more than 3600 people die of viral hepatitis related liver disease, liver failure and liver cancer. Chronic viral hepatitis is now the second biggest killer after tuberculosis,” says the WHO.

In Africa, chronic viral hepatitis affects over 70 million Africans of which 60 million have  Hepatitis B while 10 million  suffer from  Hepatitis C.

“The disease affects the most youthful and productive African causing catastrophic financial liability in the treatment of advanced liver disease and emotional distress and stigmatization.

“Women play a critical role in disease transmission in Africa, with high rates of mother to child transmission of Hepatitis B infection. Most of the burden of Hepatitis B comes from infections acquired before the age of 5 years. Infected children develop persistent hepatitis and are more likely to develop progressive liver disease and cancer in early adulthood,” says WHO.

Unsafe blood transfusion, injections with contaminated needles and sharps in health facilities and in traditional practices of tattooing and scarifications are  routes of transmission of both Hepatitis B and C. Transmission also occurs via unsafe sex and Intravenous drug use among key populations.

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