Hepatitis, a health condition that attacks vital human organs, appears more dreadful to human survival, given its wide range of transmission modes and the attendant chances of survival.
However, the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, says hepatitis is not a death sentence, and that early detection and treatment are critical to preventing the disease from advancing to more severe stages, such as chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis.
To him, “Early detection of viral hepatitis is essential for timely treatment, preventing disease progression and transmission, reducing complications and improving overall public health outcomes.
Regular screenings, especially for high-risk populations, play a crucial role in identifying infections early and ensuring appropriate medical care.”
He cautioned that the mode of transmitting viral hepatitis — through body fluids — made everybody vulnerable to the infection, which could be very deadly but manageable and curable in some instances.
Common modes of transmission include unprotected sexual contact, sharing of contaminated needles or syringes, and from mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding.
Other strains could also happen if contaminated food or water are consumed, or through direct contact with an infected person’s faeces.
He revealed that the low-hanging fruit for everybody in preventing and keeping an infection under control was screening.
“Hepatitis can sneakily infiltrate the body and cause damage before any symptoms appear.
“Early detection through screening allows for timely intervention, preventing the virus from wreaking havoc on the liver and reducing the risk of severe complications. Hepatitis viruses can cause inflammation and damage to the liver over time,” he said.
“Some individuals infected with hepatitis viruses may be asymptomatic but can still transmit the virus to others.”
The Director General called on all citizens to get screened immediately.
He said that would enable the country to realise its target to diagnose 90 per cent of Hepatitis B and C cases and put at least 80 per cent on treatment to help nip the growing burden in the bud.
The Director-General said some hepatitis infections were curable while others were only suppressible to enable an infected person to live a normal life.
That, Dr Kuma-Aboagye said, meant that the condition was not a death sentence if picked early and put on treatment.
Hepatitis is a medical term used to describe inflammation of the liver.
It can be caused by various factors, but the most common cause is viral infections.
There are five main types of viral hepatitis, labelled as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Each type is caused by a different virus and has distinct characteristics.
But their modes of spread are pretty similar — through contact with the fluid or blood of an infected person.
The viral hepatitis virus is found in blood and certain bodily fluids and is spread when a person who is not immune to it comes into contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person.
Some forms of viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis B and C, can be transmitted from person to person through various means, such as unprotected sexual contact, sharing needles, or from mother to child during childbirth.
Symptoms of viral hepatitis could vary depending on the type of virus and the stage of the infection.
Some common symptoms include fatigue, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, among others.
It is, therefore, important to note that not everyone infected with viral hepatitis will exhibit symptoms.
Some people may experience a mild illness or have no symptoms at all, especially during the early stages of infection.
Depending on the specific virus (hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E), antiviral medications, vaccines and other interventions could help manage the infection, prevent complications and improve the chances of recovery.
Health experts say there is currently no effective vaccine against hepatitis C, but an early diagnosis can prevent the health problems that may result from infections and prevent transmission of the virus.
Also, there are effective tools available to prevent viral hepatitis infection, which include hepatitis B vaccination, surveillance, education, screening and treatment.
Preventing hepatitis involves practising good hygiene, getting vaccinated (where available) for hepatitis A and B, practising responsible sex, avoiding sharing needles or personal items that may come into contact with blood or body fluids and following safe medical procedures.
To a hepatologist, Dr Adwoa Agyei-Nkansah, Hepatitis C was curable.
However, the cost of treatment and testing was expensive, which placed a lot of poor patients at a disadvantage.
She revealed that several discussions were ongoing with some diagnostic centres in the country to subsidise the diagnosis of patients in an attempt to encourage more persons to check their status, seek medical care and eventually eliminate Hepatitis from the country.
Checks by the Daily Graphic showed that the pre-test examinations cost between GH¢2,000 and GH¢3,000 while treatment costs close to GH¢7,000, an amount which was beyond the reach of many people in the country.
Testing hesitancy and national burden
Recently at the launch of World Hepatitis Day, the Programme Manager, National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme, Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Atsu Godwin Seake-Kwawu, said although the country was experiencing a growing burden of hepatitis infections and mortalities, it had very low rates of diagnosis, treatment and awareness.
He revealed that there were 1.5 million people with Hepatitis B and C in the country, with over 3,000 deaths every year from liver cancer and cirrhosis.
However, due to testing hesitancy, only 10 per cent of people with chronic Hepatitis B (HBV) were diagnosed, of which only 22 per cent received treatment.
For Hepatitis C, only 21 per cent of people with the infection are diagnosed, with 62 per cent of those diagnosed receiving treatment to cure them.
Although four out of every 100 people sampled have the condition, the national response is said to be plagued with the high cost of pre-treatment examinations and treatment and limited access to treatment.
Dr Seake-Kwawu encouraged all, particularly pregnant women, to get tested for the disease for early treatment to prevent those with a high viral load from sharing it with their unborn babies.
Dr Seake-Kwawu said hepatitis was a global condition and that the World Health Organisation (WHO) was working towards its elimination by 2030.
He urged Ghanaians to regularly test for hepatitis to know their status for early treatment.
He added that the GHS was increasing its activities towards the elimination of viral hepatitis in the country.
He said the service had started the implementation of a project to screen pregnant women for the condition and vaccinate them after delivery to curtail the spread of the virus.
Dr Seake-Kwawu said it was important to increase prevention, testing, access to treatment and chronic care, as the cost of medication for treatment was expensive.