On July 29 every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) creates a global awareness about the second killer disease – viral hepatitis. Nations across the world takes steps to sensitise their citizens on preventive measures, diagnosis and treatment.
Last June, Uganda hosted the first African hepatitis summit. The highpoint for Nigeria is that it was not listed among the most affected destinations. However, Egypt offered to help 14 most affected countries in Africa to reduce the disease. In this interview, a physician, Dr. Ejike Ihenacho, speaks on certain actions inimical to health.
What is hepatitis, types and who does it affect most?
Hepatitis is an infection/ inflammation of the liver. The liver is the chemical house of the body; it performs over 500 functions in the body, which absorbs the remnants materials of food or drinks after digestion for further chemical reactions. From the liver, the food materials, like protein, fat and mineral salts are being preserved, stored or released into the blood stream. Without the liver, survival is slim. So we must be very careful about it. We have viral hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. The most affected persons apart from those who indulge in habitual drinking and self meditations, are the poor people who live in dirty environment, people who live in apartments without proper ventilations and those who don’t eat as and when due as well as those who play with contaminated strings and hard drugs addicts can be affected by either of the hepatitis.
What are the possible causes?
It’s quite appalling that some people take pride in taking excess alcohol but ignorantly endangering their lives. Excess quantity of chemicals and toxic substances in the body gives the liver work overload. By trying to manage the content of alcohol substances, some cells are damaged; by that, the person suffers infection of the liver. More so, careless intake of drugs and medicines, like paracetamol, can be harmful to the body. People take 3/4 tablet of this paracetamol, which goes straight to the liver and makes it inflamed. Even the reckless intake of local herbal medicine can damage the liver.
Again, the first attack of malaria hits the liver, where the germs hide to destroy the liver; that’s why you hear medical practitioners say sometimes that malaria kills quickly, especially malaria plasmodium falciparum, but people don’t believe because they don’t understand, it’s parasite that attacks the liver.
What are the other causes?
Blood contact through blood transfusion with people suffering hepatitis can cause Hepatitis B, while Hepatitis A & C can be contracted by air pollution, contaminated food and water. Hepatitis D stems from Hepatitis B. Hepatitis E is not yet popular, including its vaccine. Viral hepatitis is dangerous. Once it affects the liver, it may lead to death.
Could you kindly tell us the signs and symptoms?
A significant sign is when one’s urine turns black. The blackness of urine is caused by excess urobilinogen in the urine. Also, continuous weakness of the body, yellowish eyes and skin could be signs of hepatitis. But for our children, we need to watch them closely because they don’t know how to express themselves, and that’s why we immunise them three times against this viral disease, especially Hepatitis B.
A joint report from WHO and UNICEF revealed that only Namibia and Mauritius are implementing selective Hepatitis B birth doze administration in positive pregnant women. Nigeria is yet to key into such proactive move. What do you think is amiss?
In our hospital, any pregnant woman who comes for antenatal must pass through the entire necessary test and is administered appropriate medical therapies to save both mother and baby. So if our leaders know the value of life, they will not hesitate to key into any vision rectified either in Africa OR the world at large to ensure sound health and safety of life. Though Nigeria is not among the worst hit countries in hepatitis index. However, we need to stamp it out completely because so many still die of it every day across the country. Howbeit, it’s expected of this administration to invest more in the health sector as WHO releases new estimates for the total eradication of hepatitis by 2030 across globe. Nigeria must not lag behind.
Can adult go for immunization?
Yes, there is no overdose, especially if an adult thinks he was not completely immunised at infant. So we advise people to confirm their status.
In 2016, 194 member nations of WHO had a resolution to eradicate hepatitis by 2030 (90 per cent reduction of new cases and 65 per cent reduction in death cases). How prepared is Nigeria in this regard?
In my 34 years of medical practice, immunisation against hepatitis and other diseases remains free, the government is trying in this aspect, especially in Lagos, but should do more; so the onus rest on the shoulders of parents to key- in by ensuring that children are administered the adequate immunisation. For those who feel immunisation is not necessary, endangers the life of the child. But Immunisation across country is not enough; the government must strive to reduce the level of poverty and environmental pollution. If we immunise but people still suffer environmental hazards, malnutrition and resort to self-medications, our efforts to curb hepatitis in Nigeria is squashed. It’s a serious problem.
In September, 2014, the Africa Regional Strategic Plan on Immunisation set a seven-year Vision from 2014 to 2020, in line with Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), to improve immunisation coverage beyond the current level among others objectives. How fast are we implementing this target in Nigeria?
Since Nigeria share just 5.5 per cent of total number of death cases resulting from hepatitis in Africa, I believe we can do more to wipe out hepatitis and other viral diseases in our country, that’s why primary health care is very essential, the government agencies on health and the personnel heading them should not take the health of Nigerians for granted; by the way, some of them goes out of the country for proper medical attention, but then what about the poor?
Is any category of hepatitis incurable?
No. Though there’s no vaccine for hepatitis C, but all viral infections can be treated. It depends on when the affected persons reports themselves and treatment commence. Unfortunately, most people report themselves when the liver has already failed. So each type of hepatitis has different medications for it, though some of the viruses are very difficult kill and mere antibiotics cannot kill most of them, but they can be handled appropriately.