IN 2015 OVER 200 PEOPLE SUCCUMBED TO THE VIRUS IN UGANDA ALONE:
Hepatitis B is currently the most threatening and very contagious condition but can be cured if detected and treated early. The only way to know whether you have it or not is to test as early as you can. Gladys Nyangoma a lab technician at Family Care Hospital in Najjera, Kampala describes Hepatitis B as a viral infection that attacks the liver and causes both acute and chronic disease. “The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. An estimated 240 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis B (defined as Hepatitis B surface antigen positive for at least 6 months),” says Nyangoma. Like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B is largely transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person.
A report from the Ministry of Health Uganda has revealed that Hepatitis B claimed over 200 people in 2015 alone. The deaths arise from people who had acute Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). According to a report from the Health Minister, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng that was presented recently during a Parliamentary Committee on Health, Uganda is highly endemic for HBV with 52% life time exposure. “3.5million people; which is 10% of the total population are living with chronic Hepatitis B and the highest infection rates are in Karamoja (23.9%), Northern Uganda (20.7), West Nile (18.5%) and Western Region (10%),” Aceng’s shocking reports reads in part. The report adds that in the year 2015 alone; 2,403 Hepatitis cases were registered which resulted in 256 deaths.
Whereas Minister Aceng says government is doing a mass vaccination roll out plan against HBV, a number of HBV patients are struggling to get treatment from government health facilities and the rest of the masses remain unknowledgeable about the deadly virus.
A Doctor from Family Care Hospital says effective treatment for Hepatitis B requires adequate screening of the patient to ascertain the impact of the virus in his/her body before being put on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. “This explains why there is need to carry out tests such as liver and viral load tests to find out how inactive or reactive the virus is in the body.
However, this is very expensive if done in private clinics, the Doctor explains. Very few government and private health facilities carry out Hepatitis B viral load tests. Private clinics charge between Shs300, 000 to Shs500, 000 to do the above tests. Doctor Aceng admits that government is financially stressed to handle Hepatitis treatment considering that over 16 million people need vaccination for HBV. “Vaccination is one of our strategies to control this virus and apparently we have procured vaccines worth Shs7.5bn and we have started distributing them,” says Aceng. She adds that funds cannot allow roll out to all parts of country.
“We can’t roll out vaccination all at once in the country, but we shall start with districts with low prevalence rate as we provide treatment to areas where most people are already infected,” she says. The Ministry of Health estimates that a total amount of Shs220bn is required for the whole country. Worldwide, over 2billion (30%) of the population is exposed to Hepatitis virus and most of them are unaware of their infection. On the other hand, 240m people are infected with chronic HBV especially in low and medium income countries. HBV is now the 10th leading cause of death in the world, according to World Health Organization (WHO).
How it is spread
This condition is found in the blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluids of an infected person. It can also be passed on through injecting drugs and sharing needles and other drug equipment such as spoons and filters, having unprotected sex with an infected person, body piercing, dental treatment in an unhygienic environment with unsterilized equipment and sharing toothbrushes or razors contaminated with infected blood. This virus is largely spread through blood contact and unprotected sex is one easy way one can get it.
Doctor Peter Kibuuka from Rubaga Hospital Kampala adds that one can be born with Hepatitis B as it can be transferred to babies by their mothers during delivery. However, it cannot spread through kissing, holding hands, hugging, sharing towels, coughing, sneezing or sharing utensils like plates, forks or cups as commonly believed.
Nyangoma says it often doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms in adults and usually one can die in a few months without treatment, but in children it often persists for years and may cause a serious liver damage. Dr. Kibuuka says many people with Hepatitis B never experience any symptoms and may fight off the virus without realizing they have it. If symptoms do develop, they tend to occur two or three months after exposure to the Hepatitis B virus. Symptoms of hepatitis B include among other things: flu-like symptoms, tiredness, fever, general aches and pains, loss of appetite, diarrhea, abdominal pains and yellowing of the skin and eyes.
“A blood test can be carried out to check if you have Hepatitis B or have had it in the past. The Hepatitis B vaccine may also be recommended to reduce your risk of infection,” he says.