Moses Emorinken, Abuja
The Federal Government and the World Health Organization (WHO) Tuesday said that hepatitis B birth dose vaccination still remains the best way to reduce the numbers of new infections in the country, because the most vulnerable time for infection is in the first month of life.
They also revealed that people with hepatitis-related complications are at a higher risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19 and must continue to receive essential hepatitis prevention and treatment services during the pandemic and beyond.
The WHO therefore called for the scaling up of hepatitis B birth dose vaccination, leveraging the HIV and Syphilis infrastructure to prevent mother-to-child transmission and ensure mothers have access to testing and treatment.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, in his address at the WHO virtual high-level meeting to commemorate World Hepatitis Day, said, “Nigeria is endemic for both viral hepatitis B and C. In 2018 Nigeria conducted a National AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey which showed a prevalence of 8.1 percent for Hepatitis B (HBV) and 1.1 percent for Hepatitis C (HCV). We could estimate that about 20 million people are chronically infected.
“We recognize the importance of vaccination as a critical intervention in our determination to eliminate HBV infection by 2030. In the light of this, Nigeria was one of the first African countries to introduce a birth dose of HBV vaccine in 2004.
“We are working in alignment with the Regional Resolution to reduce Chronic Hepatitis B Virus Infection to less than 2 percent in children under five years by the end of this year.
Ehanire added: “One of the major challenges of Hepatitis B birth dose vaccination was the inadequate domestic contribution to finance vaccines and expand access to services. In recent times, Nigeria has made important progress in this area.
“We are committed to a $3billion Nigeria Strategy on Immunization and PHC Systems Strengthening (NSIPSS). This is our plan for transitioning to financial ownership of the immunization and primary health care system over a ten-year period, from 2018-2028.
“All in all, the plan aims to address inequities in the uptake of routine vaccines and includes improvement of coverage for HBV Birth Dose. In 2019, HBV birth dose coverage was 59 percent. It is important to note that Nigeria has not defaulted in its co-financing obligations of routine immunization implementation for the past 3 years.
“We have also worked on strengthening routine immunization through the establishment of a National Emergency Routine Immunization Coordination Centre (NERICC) in 2017, and there have been several gains through the creation of this platform.
“We acknowledge the significant work that is required to address prevention of mother to child transmission of viral hepatitis. The robust policy on Reproductive Health, Maternal, New-born, and Child Health (RMNCH) to screen all pregnant mothers for HIV, syphilis and viral hepatitis presents a great opportunity that can be strengthened to improve prevention of mother to child transmission of viral hepatitis.”
According to the Country Representative of the WHO, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, “We commemorate the world hepatitis day to increase the awareness of this public health threat. Of the 71 million Africans with chronic viral hepatitis, 300 people sadly lose their lives daily from liver cancer and other complications relating to hepatitis B and C.