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Ugandans urged to test for Hepatitis disease

By Tracy Gwambe

Added 14th July 2020 12:51 PM

Once on treatment, Hepatitis B complications will be delayed, and for Hepatitis C, the good news is that it is curable. 

Ugandans urged to test for Hepatitis disease

Dr Driwale Alfred (Courtesy picture)

Once on treatment, Hepatitis B complications will be delayed, and for Hepatitis C, the good news is that it is curable. 

July being the world Hepatitis month, and July 28, the day that marks the World Hepatitis Day, the Ministry of Health (MoH), has taken it upon itself to create awareness on the global concerns and actions which are meant to be taken to reduce Hepatitis as a public health problem.  

We talked to Dr Driwale Alfred, the Program Manager for immunization in Uganda, who gave us an insight into what the MoH is doing in regards to testing, vaccinating, and stemming the spread of Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.

Just like it was the case with chickenpox and Polio, Dr. Driwale says it is possible to have a Hepatitis free future and that efforts in Uganda are in advanced stages to ensure Hepatitis is not a big public health problem. 

Importance 
"It is important to know how serious the issue of Hepatitis is, given that it has a high prevalence in Uganda with about 43% of the population having Hepatitis B infection, according to studies," says Dr Driwale. 

In the North-Eastern part of Uganda, there is a higher prevalence of 4.6% and the Southern and Southwestern parts having a lower prevalence of about 0.8%. 

"This is a disease which impacts on the liver," says Dr. Driwale, who advises that if one gets infected with Hepatitis when they are below the age of 5, chances are that 90% of them will proceed to get chronic forms of liver disease. 

Hepatitis is a disease that affects the liver and in the acute foam, the body can recover from it, particularly if it is Hepatitis A and E. 

For Hepatitis B and C, the diseases will proceed to chronic foam. The chronic foam means that the body will fight with the disease, for about 25 years, and if it cannot resolve the infection, then one will proceed to have liver cirrhosis, liver failure, or cancer of the liver. 

"The evidence we have from our cancer registry is that 90% of the people who are admitted in the cancer institute have cancer which was caused by Hepatitis," says Dr Driwale. 

The intervention against Hepatitis disease is very critical, and it is why the country is being encouraged to embrace testing and vaccinating. 
 
It is important for every individual to know whether they have hepatitis infection or not. 

The Health Ministry further urges all people to test and find out their status and to also go ahead with having the vaccine because when it gets to the chronic stage and someone is faced with complications like liver failure, liver cirrhosis or Cancer itself, it is a difficult stage to reverse the complications.  

Dr. Driwale says children who are born are vaccinated at 4, 6, and 10 weeks old, as an intervention, with a DPT vaccine, injected on the thigh, which already contains the Hepatitis vaccine. 

"In Uganda, children below the age of 18 have already benefited from this vaccination exercise, and seven years from now, we will expect a reduction in the number of Ugandans who will be presenting with cancers of the liver due to Hepatitis B virus," he says. 

Dr. Driwale has appealed to parents to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated and that for adults, MoH has been testing for Hepatitis disease, moving from region to region. 

If negative, the ministry will have you vaccinated and if positive, an assessment will be made to find out if the patient needs treatment or if they need to be monitored. 

Once on treatment, Hepatitis B complications will be delayed, and for Hepatitis C, the good news is that it is curable. 

MoH is working on a program to ensure that every pregnant mother is tested during antenatal care, to find out their Hepatitis status and negative mothers will be vaccinated, the ministry will also access if the positive mothers need treatment or not.

In addition, when positive mothers give birth, their newly born babies will be given a dose at the time of birth, to ensure that the transmission from mother to child is interrupted.   

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