World Hepatitis Day: Malawi fails to act on public health threat

Hepatitis is a global public health problem affecting millions of people every year, yet Malawi shows no sign of safeguarding its citizen from its devastating health consequences.

Viral hepatitis is a global public health problem affecting millions of people every year, causing disability and death, yet Malawi shows no sign of safeguarding its citizen to these devastating health consequences.

Sylvester Sandifolo, a hepatitis patient, is quoted in local press saying the government of Malawi’s failure to line up activities in commemoration for World Hepatitis Day this year is a clear indication of its lack of seriousness to tackle the disease.

Malawi is a signatory to the World Health Assembly resolution WHA63.18, which was adopted to call for a comprehensive approach towards the prevention and control of viral hepatitis.

Global response to hepatitis

Resolution WHA63.18 stipulates that WHO work closely with member states, including Malawi, to strengthen prevention and control programmes, diagnostic and laboratory capacity, and management of viral hepatitis in developing countries in an equitable, efficient, and suitable manner.

Currently the government is falling short of its duties and needs to do much more to develop programs to raise awareness of and help reduce this infectious disease.

The Ministry of Health spokesperson, Henry Chimbali, was asked to comment on what should be done to implement the resolution in order for Malawi to attain the goals outlined in the framework, but didn’t provide any response.

HIV and HCV co-infection

Macmillan Lingomanje, a senior anaesthetist at Zomba General Hospital who is also living positively with HIV, said he personally believed the country should also be more concerned with HIV and viral hepatitis co-infection – as they are two interlinking epidemics.

Lingomanje – who also wears several other hats, including associate lecturer in anaesthesiology, national quality improvement assessor and trainer, antiretroviral therapy provider and mentor in care of the carers – says policies are available but not fully adhered to or complied with by the authorities, hence people need to demand their rights at all cost.

“There is nothing which is cheap and easy to handle when we talk of patient care. Policies and medical procedures need to be adhered to when we want to protect and treat people holistically regardless of one’s status,” says Lingomanje.

Hepatitis plan needed in Malawi

Both HIV and hepatitis are blood borne diseases transmitted primarily through sexual intercourse and injecting drug use. Because they share the same modes of transmission co-infection with both diseases is common.

According to a 2001 report in the European Journal of Epidemiology, in Malawi intravenous drug use is virtually unknown. However, in medical facilities needles, syringes and surgical instruments are often sterilized without adequate quality control measures and could be a possible mode of transmission of hepatitis C (HCV).

Another possible route of transmission is through blood transfusion. The blood supply in Malawi is routinely screened for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B, but not for hepatitis C.

This is particularly alarming considering the high risk of co-infection of HIV-HCV and the fact that Malawi is a home of 50,000 new HIV infections every year in a population of around 16 million.

World Hepatitis Day provides a unique opportunity for communities around the world to join together to focus attention on the global health threat of hepatitis and promote actions to address the disease.

The World Health Organization and partners across the globe are celebrating the day under the theme; ‘Hepatitis, think again’.

Malawi should take note.

Read more about HIV prevention and treatment

COMMENTS

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    Viral hepatitis co infection is an increasing cause of morbidity and mortality among people living with HIV (PLHIV). As such PLHIV who are co infected with HBV are at increased risk for life-threatened health complications.
    There is a need to ‘think again on hepatitis’ if we really serious on the national response.