Nigeria’s health minister Osagie Ehanire says 18.2 million Nigerians were infected with viral hepatitis, as awareness, reporting, diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis B and C remained low in the country.
Mr Ehanire disclosed this while addressing journalists on Wednesday in Abuja in commemoration of the 2021 World Hepatitis Day with the theme, ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait!’
Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, showing five common viral hepatitis strains as A, B, C, D, and E, but with a hepatitis G virus identified recently.
The minister stressed that hepatitis remained a disease of public health importance, with the mortality rate from both infections still alarming, despite global progress made in addressing the disease.
He further stated that 16 million Nigerians were estimated to be infected with hepatitis B and 2.2 million with hepatitis C, representing an estimated prevalence rate of 8.1 per cent and 1.1 per cent, respectively.
“In 2019, 3.8 per cent of the world’s population was living with Chronic hepatitis B virus infection and 0.75 per cent with hepatitis C infection,” he stated. “We adopted the national sub-theme ‘National ownership and financing for viral hepatitis elimination’ as a clarion call to action by all stakeholders and acknowledged the need to increase engagement to realise the desired changes.”
Mr Ehanire also noted that the health ministry introduced policy documents and guidance for action with partner support but regretted ensuring optimal access to services remained a challenge, while the out-of-pocket payment was still the main source for financing treatment.
“The government recognises the urgent need to address out-of-pocket payments and improve sustainable financing, to be on course to the elimination targets,” he added.
Given Nigeria’s commitment to the 2030 viral hepatitis elimination plan, the minister said it was essential to improve community engagement, political leadership, testing and treatment, and scale up high-impact interventions.
He called on all Nigerians to work to eliminate the “silent killer” by visiting a health facility for screening.
The WHO representative to Nigeria, Walter Mulombo, said the 2021 theme emphasised the urgent need for countries to rapidly improve access to services to prevent, diagnose and treat viral hepatitis.
“In Africa, including Nigeria, hepatitis is a silent epidemic: More than 90 million people are living with hepatitis in the region, accounting for 26 per cent of the global total,” Mr Mulombo said.