By Sola Ogundipe & Monsuru Olowopejo
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world today to mark this year’s World Hepatitis Day, liver cancer experts have called for an effective action towards combating viral Hepatitis through sustained awareness and education as well as support for increased access to treatment for people infected with this disease.
Over 18 million Nigerians are living with Hepatitis B while not less than three million are living with Hepatitis C according to a report by the Federal Ministry of Health.
Making the call in Lagos, two liver cancer experts, Prof. C.N. Obionu and Prof B S.C Uzochukwu said the low awareness about Hepatitis B and C in most parts of the country, was worrisome and argued for reversal of the paucity of information amongst the general population and even healthcare practitioners as there have been vast changes profiling and management of the disease over the past 10 years.
Presenting results of the latest national survey of viral hepatitis B and C infection in Nigeria, Liver cancer has become the second leading cause of cancer‑related death and is due largely to hepatitis B and C. According to the World Hepatitis Alliance, Nigeria has the ninth 9th highest mortality due to viral hepatitis worldwide.
The experts who confirm diagnosis on a weekly basis of patients with several stages of severe liver damage, lamented that Hepatitis is currently managed by a lot of quacks in the country who administer compounds which may even complicate the situation for already burdened patients.
“There is limited access to proper diagnosis, right medication and there are relatively small number of specialists and trained GPs qualified to adequately manage this condition.”
According to the experts, blood has the highest concentration of the virus, so exposure to infected blood is the easiest way to get the virus.
It is also transmitted perinatally (i.e. through vertical transmission from mother to child during delivery), pecutanously (by contaminated needles or other sharp instruments), sexually (through sexual intercourse), and within household by sharing personal care items such as razor blades, toothbrushes, etc.
Chronic carriers serve as an important source of new infections; most have no signs or symptoms and an estimated two‑thirds are unaware of their status.