In observance of World Hepatitis Day, The Gambia through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, MRC Unit The Gambia and WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer, on the 28th July 2016 held a press briefing at the Central Medical Stores in Kotu. Under the theme “Know hepatitis – Act now” the aim of the commemoration is to increase global awareness, as well as strengthening prevention, diagnosis and treatment services. The event was attended by over 40 people including representatives from over 12 media houses.
In her remark, Ramatoulie Sarr, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health and Social welfare highlighted, that viral hepatitis pandemic is an international public health challenge comparable to major communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. “The Gambia government in collaboration with the MRCG and WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer were the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to conduct a mass infant vaccination against hepatitis B infection in February 1990 she added.
In delivering his address, Prof Umberto D’Alessandro, MRCG Director said hepatitis was very common in The Gambia before the 1980’s, but has reduced since the introduction of the immunisation. People who were not fortunate to receive the vaccination are at risk of being infected with the hepatitis virus. Prof D’Alessandro concluded by urging people to go for screening to know their hepatitis status.
Speaking at the event, Dr Patrick Abok, representing the WHO country representative to The Gambia read a statement on behalf of the WHO regional director for Africa. “Viral hepatitis, an infection of the liver caused by five distinct hepatitis viruses, is a highly widespread public health problem in Africa, similar to other major communicable diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. According to him, all five hepatitis viruses could cause severe disease, with the highest numbers of deaths resulting from liver cancer and cirrhosis – a condition in which there is irreversible scarring of the liver, which occurs after several years of chronic hepatitis B or C infection. He noted an estimated 100 million people in the African region are affected by hepatitis B were as an estimated19 million adults in the region are chronically infected with hepatitis C. However, he added that most people with chronic viral hepatitis are not aware of their infection and do not receive appropriate treatment. He concluded by urging all member states within the African region to use the World Hepatitis Day as an opportunity to step up national efforts on hepatitis and to spur action to implement the strategy on viral hepatitis.
Sheriff Badjie, deputy programme manager, National Aids Control Programme (NACP) said, “with better information and knowledge about hepatitis, people can prevent themselves and their families from getting infected and passing the infection on to others”. He further highlighted that, WHO urges countries to take rapid action to improve knowledge about the disease and to increase access to testing and treatment services to reduce needless deaths from this preventable and treatable infection.”
According to Deputy Director of Health Education and Promotion, Sanjally Tarawally, this year’s commemoration will be in two folds, the press briefing and a larger community celebration at a later date.