To mark the commemoration of the World Hepatitis Day 2020, the World Health Organization has called for a global and united effort to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. More than 1.3 million people die annually as a result of Hepatitis B and C. Zambia has therefore joined the global community to commemorate World Hepatitis Day under the theme “Hepatitis free future”. The theme highlights the importance of preventing mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B and scaling-up prevention, testing and treatment to control hepatitis B and cure hepatitis C.
The Ministry of Health working in collaboration with various partners and stakeholders has taken the lead to organise events aimed at raising public awareness about the disease and promoting prevention, testing, treatment and care. On 27 July 2020, a virtual meeting which brought together healthcare providers from national and subnational levels including Provincial Health Officers, District Health Officers and health facilities was convened with the aims of conducting tele-ECHO clinical mentorship session and sharing experiences. A Specialist in clinical management of viral hepatitis presented on diagnosis, management and prevention of viral hepatitis. Furthermore, participants of the session reviewed a clinical case of a pregnant mother with positive HBsAg test, normal ALT and APRI score less than 2.
To mark the hepatitis day on 28 July 2020, the MOH working in collaboration with the WHO Country Office organised a virtual meeting which brought together participants representing different stakeholders across the country. At this event, the WHO Representative, Dr. Nathan Bakyaita stated that the most vulnerable time for Hepatitis B infection was in the first month of life, and that this could be prevented with Hepatitis B Birth-Dose vaccination in the first 24 hours of life. He emphasized that eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HBV was an important stepping stone for reaching targets of the global hepatitis strategy which aims to reduce new hepatitis infections by 90% and deaths by 65% by 2030, compared to 2015 levels. Dr. Bakyaita stated that the new WHO guidelines recommend that pregnant women who test positive for hepatitis B infection and have a high level of HBV DNA (known as HBV viral load) should receive preventive antiviral therapy with tenofovir from the 28th week of pregnancy until at least birth, to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HBV. This is in addition to three doses of HBV vaccination, including timely birth dose. Furthermore, WHO recommends that in settings in which antenatal HBV DNA testing is not available, HBeAg testing can be used as an alternative to HBV DNA testing to determine eligibility for tenofovir prophylaxis, to prevent mother to child transmission of HBV.
In his statement to mark the Hepatitis day, the Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Health, Dr. Kennedy Malama stated that there was a gap in awareness about the disease. He said the government was very committed to turning the situation from viral hepatitis disease being that which was unknown and undiagnosed to one where the disease would be prevented, tested and treated. Dr. Malama emphasised the need for strengthening strategic partnerships in order to improve services for viral hepatitis and to ensure continuity of services even during the response to the COVID -19 pandemic.
Timely testing, and treatment of viral hepatitis can reduce liver cancer and other serious severe liver diseases. Now is the time to scale up access to prevention, testing and treatment services for all in order to achieve a hepatitis free future.