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Editorial Comment: Hepatitis – A hidden epidemic

Editorial Comment

ALARMING reports and empirical evidence that the little known and least discussed Hepatitis B infection is fast becoming a health challenge, should be a wake-up call to governments and stakeholders.

There is no need for lives to be lost to the liver ailment when alternative measures are available. Zimbabwe, thankfully, is among countries that have heeded calls to address the problem of Hepatitis and a strategy is currently being crafted to deal with this silent killer.

It would be folly to ignore the fact that every year 200 000 people in Africa are dying from complications of viral hepatitis B and C-related liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer

This epidemic, which is often difficult to treat with only a few chronic carriers accessing treatment, requires rigorous tests that are, still, unacceptably expensive in Africa.

Just like when HIV and Aids started emerging, many people — including authorities, were not concerned and did not put strategies in place. It only started to get attention when it was already a crisis which many countries are still grappling to contain.

Hepatitis has not received the attention it deserves and this means many governments have not channelled adequate resources towards this disease which is now overtaking HIV and Aids.

Its effects, if not addressed properly, will only expose our weak health systems and reverse gains made over the years in trying to build capacities to deal with diseases.

Lessons should be drawn from the past HIV and Aids blunders by initiating sustainable programmes to urgently reverse the alarming trend, through high-impact cost-effective interventions such as Hepatitis B vaccination.

Vaccinating against a disease is always cheaper and more efficient than treatment which is more expensive and not always effective for some people because of other underlying causes.

Efforts by stakeholders like the World Health Organisation to come up with initiatives such as a scorecard should be applauded and supported. The scorecard will be instrumental in efficiently examining hepatitis prevalence and response and also to track progress against viral hepatitis in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Health ministry has an opportunity to do the right thing by following through with the strategy. It should publish and disseminate, as well as implement, in earnest, programmes that will ensure that lives are not lost.

After all, the ministry’s vision in part reads: “The Government of Zimbabwe desires to have the highest possible level of health and quality of life for all its citizens, attained through the combined efforts of individuals, communities.”

Other stakeholders, like civic societies, should also start talking more about the disease educating communities on the dangers of not seeking treatment.
Testing remains crucial because once a proper diagnosis has been made a road map for treatment becomes easy.

Source : NewsDay

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