Health workers nationwide have been advised to perform thorough assessments and consider several key factors before treating viral hepatitis patients.

This advisory comes as the country prepares to commemorate World Hepatitis Day on July 28.

According to Dr. George Patrick Akabwai, a specialist physician, health workers should ensure they obtain a complete medical history of patients, including identifying risk factors, co-morbidities, co-infections, and pregnancy status before initiating treatment.

Dr. Akabwai also emphasized the need for a comprehensive physical examination to identify symptoms such as icterus, wasting, gynecomastia, jaundice, distended abdominal veins, and palmar erythema.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines viral hepatitis as a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. It is caused by five different hepatotropic viruses: Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, all of which can lead to acute and chronic infections.

The WHO’s 2024 Global Hepatitis Report highlights the increasing number of deaths due to viral hepatitis. The disease is now the second leading infectious cause of death globally, with 1.3 million deaths per year, equating to the toll of tuberculosis.

The report, released at the World Hepatitis Summit earlier this year, showed that the estimated number of deaths from viral hepatitis rose from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022. Of these deaths, 83% were caused by hepatitis B, and 17% by hepatitis C. Globally, 3,500 people die daily from hepatitis B and C infections.

In Uganda, an estimated 1,250 people died in 2022 from complications related to the hepatitis B virus, and approximately 6% of the population remains chronically infected.

Speaking at a webinar organized by the Health Ministry and Busoga Health Forum, Dr. Akabwai noted that since there is no permanent cure for hepatitis currently, vaccination remains the primary preventive measure and he urged the public to visit health centers for vaccination.

“This should apply to all infants regardless of their mother’s hepatitis status. We are continuing with the current vaccination schedule from 6 to 14 weeks after birth and we should emphasize this in our public health interventions,” he asserted.

Dr. Akabwai also called for the screening of all high-risk individuals, including health workers, pregnant women, people living with HIV, household contacts of infected persons, prisoners, individuals with multiple sexual partners, and others deemed at risk.

Hepatitis B and C are transmitted via percutaneous exposure to blood, which can occur through blood transfusions, organ transplants from infected donors, occupational exposure, childbirth from an infected mother, and sexual contact with infected partners.

Recommendations for accelerating hepatitis elimination

The WHO report outlined a series of actions to advance a public health approach to viral hepatitis, designed to accelerate progress towards ending the epidemic by 2030. They include:

·  expanding access to testing and diagnostics;

·  shifting from policies to implementation for equitable treatment;

·  strengthening primary care prevention efforts;

·  simplifying service delivery, optimizing product regulation and supply;

·  developing investment cases in priority countries;

·  mobilizing innovative financing;

·  using improved data for action; and

·  engaging affected communities and civil society and advancing research for improved diagnostics and potential cures for hepatitis B.

Kimera Abdul is a Senior Journalist with Plus News Uganda. He identifies as an adaptable and enthusiastic individual who works to inspire generations. He posses a Diploma and Broadcast journalism and has...

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