About 12 million people above the age of 19 in the central and western regions are in need of Hepatitis B screening and vaccination, new statistics from the health ministry have shown.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. Dr Alfred Driwale, the assistant commissioner vaccines and immunisation at the health ministry, said while the country tries to control common diseases such as malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis, there are other diseases like Hepatitis B that are killing people silently.
Driwale said because of the nature of the disease, most people often present to health facilities late with either liver cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.
It is against this background that he said the best way to curb the increasing infections is through screening and vaccinating those who are found negative and link those found positive to care.
Driwale made the remarks during a press briefing at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala yesterday.
Every year in April and October, the health ministry intensifies maternal child health and survival activities during what is commonly referred to as the integrated child health days.
This time around, the health ministry will embark on screening and vaccination against Hepatitis B in the central and western regions.
The exercise, Driwale said, is meant to cater to persons aged 19 years and above in the regions of Kigezi, Ankole, Toro, Bunyoro and Buganda.
These regions, he said, were scheduled to be covered in the third and fourth phase of a nationwide campaign to test and vaccinate people against Hepatitis B. Uganda is highly endemic for Hepatitis B, with a prevalence of 4.3% among adults aged 15-64.
The Uganda Population-based HIV impact assessment 2016 survey indicates that chronic Hepatitis B infection prevalence varies across the country, with the highest rates in the northern region at 4.6% in mid-north, 4.4% in northeast, and 3.8% in West Nile.
Hepatitis B infection was lower in the rest of the country with a range of 0.8% in southwest to 2% in central region, where Nakaseke district is located.
All Hepatitis viruses cause acute infections. However, Hepatitis B, C and D frequently cause chronic infections. Chronic Hepatitis may progress to cause liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, thus accounting for most of the burden of disease in Uganda.
Dr Racheal Beyagira, the technical officer Hepatitis at the health ministry, said not everyone who tests positive for Hepatitis B is eligible for treatment.
She said out of 100%, only 30% will require treatment whereas the 70% will have the infection but it will be inactive in the body.
The challenges the ministry is still grappling with include slow uptake of testing and vaccination, high vaccine dropout rate for vaccination among those who test negative as well as low funding to improve access to testing/treatment.
Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the state minister for primary healthcare, said the screening for Hepatitis B will run in the selected regions for the next six months.