The history of hepatitis goes back thousands of years. For more than 15years, significant advancements in testing, diagnosing, and managing hepatitis have been made in Kenya. up to 60 per cent of chronic liver disease and 80 per cent of hepatocellular carcinoma infections in the country is due to chronic infection of the hepatitis B virus. hepatitis B, a viral infection affecting the liver, is the leading cause of liver cancer in Africa, accounting for up to 80 per cent of liver cancer cases.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It is commonly caused by a viral infection and a common symptom is having yellowish skin and eyes. In Kenya today, the most common type of hepatitis affecting all age groups is hepatitis A, B, and C. While vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, there is still very little public awareness and information on curing, preventing, and treating them.
Despite this, public health specialists have highlighted the increasing incidence of viral hepatitis in society and the subsequent burden on existing healthcare models. Serious efforts to limit the outcomes and effects of hepatitis have been rolled out as the recent surge of infections especially among children, is worrying. Addressing control and prevention of hepatitis today will require increased public awareness and an effective call-to-action plan.
The elimination or reduction of infection rates for hepatitis B and C is pegged on cost-effective and simple initiatives compared to other diseases with identical prevalence and extent of effect on the population. Drug abusers and addicts who share needles and syringes are at a bigger risk of contracting hepatitis C. This is a habit that is particularly common among youths in Mombasa, Nairobi, and other major Kenyan cities. The sad part about this is that most of them do not really have adequate information or any information at all with regards to the signs and symptoms of hepatitis. It has also been established that individuals can carry the disease for long periods of time without knowing and without showing any signs whatsoever — up to 20 years in some cases.
In July 2020, The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a new recommendation during the World Hepatitis Day to combat the disease. WHO already recommends routine testing of all pregnant women for the hepatitis virus as early as possible in their pregnancy to detect and help fight hepatitis early. According to WHO, globally, more than 250 million people are living with chronic Hepatitis B Virus infection. Infants are especially vulnerable and about 90 per cent of children infected with HBV in their first year of life become chronic carriers.
The right public health response is vital in managing and eradicating the danger of hepatitis in our society. This will require different stakeholders working together, engaging the public through public health programmes, and raising awareness on the need for prevention and screening is key to the reduction of acute cases of hepatitis that have a proven potential to turn fatal. Technological advancements in the medical and healthcare field have made it possible for countries to make significant progress. However, Prevention of the disease is way cheaper than treatment and subsequent care for patients.