The Ministry of Health joined the world in recognizing World Hepatitis Day Sunday, one of eight official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organization.
World Hepatitis Day is observed on July 28 every year to raise global awareness of hepatitis. To mark the occasion, the Hon. Hazel Brandy-Williams, Junior Minister of Health in the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) delivered the following address:
On Sunday 28th July 2019, the Ministry of Health joined with the rest of the world in celebrating World Hepatitis Day.
This annual event endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), aims to raise awareness and galvanize efforts of individuals and communities worldwide in response to the elimination of hepatitis. This year’s theme is: ‘Invest in eliminating hepatitis’.
According to the WHO it was chosen to underline the importance of local and international funding in scaling up prevention, detection and treatment services, in order to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 elimination targets.
The campaign this year emphasizes the role of policy makers, health care workers, the general public, media, government and private sector partners in the successful implementation of strategies aligned with elimination targets.
However, WHO recognizes that in order to achieve the elimination goal by 2030, there must be a major increase in investments as part of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) for Hepatitis-specific prevention and control services.
Hepatitis is defined as inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by viruses, toxic substances such as certain drugs and alcohol, and autoimmune disease.
There are five main hepatitis virus types, namely A, B, C, D and E, which vary in disease characteristics and transmission.
- Hepatitis A and E are spread by consumption of contaminated food and water.
- Hepatitis B and C are spread from person to person via contact with body fluids and blood of infected persons.
- Persons infected with these two viruses are at increased risk of liver disease and liver cancer.
- Hepatitis D is rare and is only present in some persons with Hepatitis B.
Persons with Hepatitis may have no symptoms while others may experience jaundice or yellowing of the white of the eyes and the skin, dark urine, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Treatment options are available depending on the type of virus.
Viral Hepatitis is a public health concern due to its potential for spread, high burden on health, and death.
According to the WHO, globally, there are nine times more people infected with Hepatitis than HIV, with an estimated 325 million people affected or living with viral hepatitis B and C. This further emphasizes the urgent need for awareness and action from all levels of society.
Specific investments, by both public and private sector, in services that increase awareness campaigns and access to prevention, testing, and treatment methods, will significantly help to reduce these burdens.
The Ministry of Health and Gender Affairs, is committed and continues to invest in the efforts of the various departments and programmes within the sector, to ensure that all of us have access to information and services geared towards the prevention, detection and treatment of Viral Hepatitis. This will be further buttressed as plans for the introduction of Universal Health Coverage progress, ultimately eliminating any financial barriers to services.
As part of the Expanded Programme on Immunization, Hepatitis B vaccines are available and administered to all newborns at birth, then at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. This vaccine is also available to the adults at all health centres across the island.
Additionally, the Ministry, through the Maternal and Child Health programme and specifically the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission (EMTCT), is moving toward the elimination of Hepatitis B transmission from mother to child. In preparation, all antenatal clients are offered testing for Hepatitis B and if positive their infants are appropriately managed to prevent transmission.
Furthermore, the Health Promotion Unit (HPU) as part of its mandate continues to provide the public with the necessary information about Hepatitis and services available.
In commemoration of World Hepatitis Day 2019, the unit executed a public awareness campaign based on the following recommended key messages for the general public:
‘Know. Prevent. Test. Treat. Eliminate Hepatitis’. In addition to Pop Up sessions at selected workplaces, during the week of July 22-26, inclusive screening of Hepatitis B and C was conducted.
I therefore encourage everyone to Know: the facts of Viral Hepatitis.
Educate yourself and others. Information is available and our health care workers are always ready to assist.
Prevent: Prevent Hepatitis. Hepatitis B and C can be prevented by accepting the Hepatitis B vaccine, practicing safe sex, using and disposing of sharps properly.
Hepatitis A and E can be prevented by practicing good hand hygiene, hygienic food preparation and consumption, and by drinking safe clean water.
Test: Get tested if you are at risk.
Treat: Early testing will lead to early treatment and chronic infection can be prevented.
Eliminate Hepatitis: Our collective efforts will ultimately lead to the elimination of hepatitis by 2030.