Vaccination crucial to eliminating hepatitis –Gastroenterologist

Lara Adejoro

A Consultant Gastroenterologist at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr. Kolawole Akande, has stressed the importance of vaccination in eliminating hepatitis.

Akande, in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise said there is a need to create more awareness on hepatitis.

He also lamented the impact of COVID-19 in the treatment of hepatitis in Nigeria.

“COVID-19 has really affected the care of hepatitis patients in Nigeria, just as if affected every facet of our lives.

“For instance, the patients could not go to the hospital during the lockdown period. At the moment, there are still patients that have the phobia of the hospital because of COVID-19. Many of our patients are not coming for follow-up treatment because of the fear of contracting COVID-19.

“Also, some of the manpower and equipment used in the care of hepatitis had to be diverted to the care of COVID-19,” Akande said.

World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on 28 July to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer. 

This year’s theme is “Hepatitis can’t wait”, conveying the urgency of efforts needed to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. 

“With a person dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis-related illness – even in the current COVID-19 crisis – we can’t wait to act on viral hepatitis,” the World Health Organisation said. 

 The gastroenterologist noted that vaccination was the most effective strategy to prevent hepatitis.

He said, “People must be encouraged to get vaccinated. An important route of contracting hepatitis in Nigeria and the world is vertical transmission, which is from mother to child and also child to child transmission. Vaccination is, therefore, key to preventing the disease.

“Hepatitis B is not curable, but treatable, meaning that there are medications that when taken can prevent the long-term complications of the disease. Even though hepatitis B is not curable, we have effective treatment that can prevent the patients from having liver damage or cancer.

“Hepatitis C, on the other hand, is curable, there are drugs that when taken can cure the ailment.”

Akande added that the World Health Organisation target of eliminating hepatitis by 2030 was realistic.

“Before the target was set, a proper evaluation was done, but we need to work at it. Elimination of hepatitis B by 2030 as envisioned by WHO is to reduce this infection by 90 per cent compared to what we had in 2015. In 2019, over one million people died from hepatitis B all over the world.

“There is the need to create more awareness so that people who have hepatitis can be treated and cure. The more the people that have it, the more they are transmitting to others. The evaluation of hepatitis is very expensive; therefore, the government might need to intervene in terms of subsidies. The drugs might be beyond the reach of average Nigerians,” he said.

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