Dr. Owen Laws Kaluwa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Representative, has called for improved funding for hepatitis testing and treatment services.
He noted that despite available diagnostic tools and effective treatment, less than one in ten of the 71 million people with hepatitis B and C in Africa had access to testing, and more than 200,000 die each year due to complications like end-stage liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Dr. Kaluwa said access to hepatitis diagnostic services, WHO pre-qualified hepatitis vaccines, medication and treatment remained a major challenge in Ghana.
He said funding hepatitis testing and treatment services as part of the UHC, was a cost-effective investment, saying in Africa, two countries: Rwanda and Uganda, were providing free access to these services and advocated that Ghana should do the same. Dr Kaluwa made the call at a Ghana commemorative ceremony to mark the 2019 World Hepatitis Day.
He said the WHO urges all Member States to invest in a public health approach towards the elimination of viral hepatitis B and C in Africa, and these should include vaccination for all new-born and further integrate the interventions as part of health system strengthening He said the theme for the year, “Invest in the Elimination of Hepatitis,” suggested that with increased investment and strong political commitment, the disease could be eliminated by 2030.
He said the WHO in June 2019, developed a new scorecard to track progress across the Africa Region, and the results included the fact that testing and treatment of the disease as a public health approach remained the most neglected aspect of the response.
Dr. Kaluwa said it was also realized that the highest burden of the B infection was among children less than five years old in countries without the hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination with suboptimal coverage (under 90 percent) of childhood pentavalent vaccine.
He entreated the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service to hasten the implementation of the introduction of the dose of Hepatitis B vaccine at birth
Dr. Kaluwa again said the WHO commends GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, for supporting hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination and the Global Fund for also providing type C care for Persons receiving HIV therapy.
“In Ghana, we may also wish to include support for Hepatitis Prevention and Control in our GAVI and Global Fund Programmes,” he said. He said greater progress, was possible when countries invest in hepatitis testing and treatment services and called on partners and pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of hepatitis B and C diagnostics and medicines.
He said together with the research community, “We can collectively explore ways to simplify testing and treatment, and promote innovation towards a cure for hepatitis B and a vaccine for hepatitis C”.
Mr. Alexanda K. Abban, the Deputy Minister of Health, admitted that without a renewed financial and political commitment exhibited in a vigorous campaign to create the necessary awareness among the public, all efforts would not yield the desired result.
He said it was sad to observe that viral hepatitis B and C were the leading infectious disease killers, yet the majority of global leaders and public remained unaware, leading to the infection of 325 million people globally, and about 1.4 million deaths annually.