The Government of Uganda has been applauded in its efforts towards the fight against Hepatitis B. Over 23 Million adults and adolescents have been screened for the disease across the country while 17.6 million adults and adolescents have been successfully vaccinated against Hepatitis B, since the mass vaccination campaign was rolled out in 2015.
Speaking at the opening of the National Viral Hepatitis Stakeholders meeting under the theme “Shaping the Agenda for Uganda’s Response to Viral Hepatitis”, Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng noted that Uganda recognizes Hepatitis B as a disease of public health concern.
Dr. Aceng informed the meeting that Uganda has commenced vaccination of adults against Hepatitis B – a process that is carried out in a phased manner according to the prevalence of the disease across the country.
“Screening, testing and Vaccination in 41 districts of the Northern Uganda region was successfully concluded. This, then shifted to 12 districts in the Busoga region where vaccination is ongoing” she said.
In order to advance the fight against Hepatitis B, Ministry of Health issued two statutory instruments;
I. The Public Health Declaration of Hepatitis B as a formidable Epidemic Disease
II. The Public Health Vaccination of Health Workers against Hepatitis B Virus
According to the 2016 Uganda Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (UPHIA) Survey, prevalence of Hepatitis B infection among adults stands at 4.3% (5.6% among men and 3.1% among women). The survey indicates that Hepatitis B prevalence is highest in Northern region at 4.6% while lowest in the South West region at 0.8%.
“All regional referral and general hospitals have been prepared as treatment centers. Currently 6 treatment centers have been equipped and are providing treatment for Hepatitis B” Aceng added. These are; Mulago National Referral Hospital, Arua Regional Referral Hospital, Soroti Regional Referral Hospital, Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, Jinja Regional Referral Hospital and Adjumani General Hospital.
Senior Scientist in WHO’s Global Hepatitis Programme, Dr. Philippa Easterbook commended Uganda’s progress in the fight against Hepatitis. “We have noted considerable progress in testing, vaccination and the growing awareness on Hepatitis in the country. This shows that as a country, you are on the right track” she said.
Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by Hepatitis B virus. It can be acute and self-resolving or chronic. The Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) is found in blood and bodily fluids. It can be transmitted through semen, vaginal fluids, and blood, and it can pass from a mother to a newborn during delivery. Sharing needles and having unprotected sex increase the risk.
On behalf of WHO African Regional Office, Hepatitis Director, Dr. Lesi highlighted the fact that Uganda is the pioneer country in Africa to carry out mass vaccination against Hepatitis B among adults. “Uganda serves as a model on the global platform for both African countries and the world in its efforts to systematically screen over 50% of its population as well as successfully vaccinate adults against Hepatitis B” she said.
Dr. Lesi praised Uganda for embarking on the fight against Hepatitis way back in 2014 long before the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis 2016-2021 was developed. “The first shot of the Hepatitis B vaccine was taken by none other than H E President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni; the Parliament of Uganda has committed UGX 10 Billion shillings annually to the fight against Hepatitis which demonstrates the high political will towards the fight against Hepatitis B” she said amidst thunderous applauses from the audience.
However, the fight against Hepatitis is often met with a number of challenges such as; stigma associated with the disease, vaccination against Hepatitis B is labor intensive (requires counseling before testing, screening followed by vaccination), myths and conceptions surrounding the disease, which the meeting participants unanimously agreed that they need renewed focus and attention.
Deliberations from the meeting will reshape Uganda’s response to Viral Hepatitis.