African governments urged to decentralize health care on World Hepatitis Day

AFRICA – The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti has called upon African governments to decentralize major aspects of their health systems and to prioritize funding to address viral hepatitis that poses a serious public health problem.

The tough call to action was made during this year’s commemoration of the World Hepatitis Day, celebrated on 28th July every year, to raise awareness of the silent killer which is responsible for the deaths of about 125,000 people in Africa annually despite the availability of treatment.

This year’s theme, “Bringing hepatitis care closer to you”, aims to highlight the need to bring hepatitis care closer to primary health care facilities hence effectively raising awareness about hepatitis care to communities in a bid to ensure better access to treatment and care.

WHO in the African Region has launched the Viral Hepatitis Scorecard 2021 in time to commemorate the 2022 World Hepatitis Day revealing that in 19 countries, more than 8% of the population is infected with Hepatitis B while in 18 countries, more than 1% of the population lives with Hepatitis C.

The World Health Organization cautioned that more than 91 million Africans live with Hepatitis B or C which are the deadliest strains of the virus, noting that the African region accounted for 26% of the global burden for Hepatitis B and C and 125,000 associated deaths in 2020.

The 2021 Global Hepatitis Report reminded us that only 2% of people living with Hepatitis B in Africa know their status, and that less than 1% are receiving treatment. For Hepatitis C, only 5% of patients know their status, with an alarming 0% treatment rate.

The WHO scorecard highlights that coverage for routine childhood vaccination against Hepatitis B is 72% for the region which is below the global target of 90% needed to ensure that the virus is no longer a public health menace.

WHO in the African Region adopted the 2021-2030 Framework for an Integrated Multisectoral Response to TB, HIV, STIs and Hepatitis in 2021 with an aim to support the introduction of the Hepatitis B birth dose vaccine in 35 Member States.

Furthermore, the 2021-2030 Framework for an Integrated Multisectoral Response aims to support the diagnosis of at least 30% of those with chronic hepatitis infections and the achievement of 30% of people with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C on treatment.

WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti has called upon all African governments to commit to decentralizing care to primary health level particularly to reach everyone regardless of where they live and to prioritize funding to address the preventable health threat.

African nations have been urged to increase domestic funding for the elimination of tuberculosis, HIV, sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis along with investing in information and surveillance for action to stop the killer diseases.

In addition, the World Health Organization encouraged African governments to establish a platform for the integrated delivery of interventions including the life-course approach, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health care and immunizations.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti explained that the main barriers to vaccination include hepatitis services are centralized in cities and major urban areas where care is usually delivered primarily by specialists, the high cost of diagnosis and medicines along with an inadequate laboratory platform.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti disclosed that WHO has launched targeted training materials to capacitate health workers to scale up delivery of simplified Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C services in line with Universal Health Coverage principles.

The many promising developments in the fight to eliminate hepatitis are reason for hope. The launch of the global strategies on hepatitis in 2016 and 2022 along with increased advocacy and political will are beginning to translate into action,” she added.

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