Written by Mufuh Ramiro
Edited by Peter Tah
Hepatitis B infection is one of the most serious liver infections in the world. It is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV), which attacks liver cells and can lead to liver failure or liver cancer later in life. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids and from an infected mother to her newborn child.
Though the virus is a global health threat, HBV infection has not been given the attention it deserves, compared to other diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
Viral hepatitis B infection is largely a silent disease. The initial stage of infection is characterized by non-specific symptoms like fever, yellowish eyes, vomiting, abdominal pain, and headache – which sometimes subsides with little or no supportive treatment.
Most often at chronic stage, signs and symptoms that occur signify dysfunction of liver cells, liver failure and/or liver cancer that only show up when it is too late.
Facts from the Hepatitis B Foundation in 2016 reveal that approximately two people around the world die every minute from Hepatitis B, and an estimated 1.4 million people die each year from the direct effect of the virus and liver cancer.
Same report also reveals that more people die each year of Hepatitis B than HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined. Yet, very little attention is placed on raising awareness, prevention, and treatment of the virus.
Global leaders believe that Hepatitis B (HepB) vaccine at birth to children from infected mothers can go a long way to control the infection.
In 1992, the World Health Organization (WHO) set a goal for all countries to introduce the HepB vaccine into their national routine infant immunization schedules by 1997. In 2006, some 81 (42%) of 193 countries reported using the schedule with a HepB vaccine birth dose (the dose within 24 hours of birth) but only 27% of all newborns in the world received the HepB vaccine in 2006.
According to BMJ Journal 2016, there were approximately 2,250,000 people living with Hepatitis B virus in Cameroon in 2016.
The Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Health Services within the framework of curbing diseases of public health importance such as Hepatitis B has implemented an everyday vaccination against Hepatitis B in all her health facilities in Cameroon at an affordable cost of FCFA 7,500 for all three doses.
Dr. Epie Njume, General Practitioner at Nkwen Baptist Health Centre, says HepB vaccine (and immunoglobulin) is recommended for every newborn baby born to an infected mother within the first 72 hours of birth, but noted that there are still controversies as to whether the vaccine protects a person for life.
“One in 15 adults who tests for Hepatitis B at the Nkwen Baptist Health Center in Bamenda tested positive with the virus,” revealed Dr. Njume.
“In our context, we, therefore, advise everyone above 15 years (whether or not they were vaccinated at birth) to test for Hepatitis B virus (HBV), and if they test negative, get vaccinated. A booster dose of the vaccine is recommended after every 15 years,” explains Dr. Njume.
In the immunization calendar in Cameroon, HepB vaccine is to be taken by children, but results have shown that more people contract Hepatitis B at adulthood, which therefore requires that adults who are tested negative should be vaccinated against the virus.
Dr. Njume says a complete HepB vaccine is given in three doses. The first dose is given after the person has tested negative and the second dose is taken one month after the first dose and the last and third dose is given 6 months after the first dose.
“These three doses can protect one for life. However, we recommend a booster dose after every 15 years,” adds the medic.
Dr. Njume further states that Hepatitis B virus is the most common cause of liver cancer which is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, and is many times more infectious than the HIV virus.
“The good news, though, is that unlike HIV, Hepatitis B can be treated definitively and treatment is available in almost all Regional Hospitals in Cameroon. We advise everyone to get tested for Hepatitis B, be vaccinated against it if found negative, and get treated if positive,” avers Dr. Njume.
The World Health Organization has designated July 28 as World Hepatitis Day. This day works for global change to eliminate viral Hepatitis and the suffering, death, and discrimination that accompanies Hepatitis B and C by 2030.