Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – Officials from Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation recently unveiled the Sierra Leone National Viral Hepatitis Policy and Strategy Document, shedding light on the alarming prevalence rates of hepatitis B and C in the country. During the launch, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Professor Dr. Charles Senessie, disclosed that the estimated prevalence of hepatitis B stands at 13.8%, with 2.4% exposed or infected by hepatitis C, and a 0.4% prevalence of HCV infection among approximately 1.19 million people living with chronic hepatitis B and C.
Dr. Sulaiman Lakkoh, presenting at the Freetown City Council Hall, highlighted in the strategic policy document that the disease is notably higher among specific age groups. Hepatitis B prevails more prominently among the younger demographic aged 15-29 (15.8%) and 30-44 years (16.6%), while hepatitis C shows higher rates among the elderly aged 60 (4.5%) and 45-60 years (3.6%). Notably, the document underscores the generalized nature of Hepatitis B in Sierra Leone, often transmitted from mother to child.
Global statistics provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that viral hepatitis causes approximately 1.1 million deaths annually, surpassing HIV-related deaths of 680,000 and malaria-related deaths of 570,000. Recognizing this threat, the World Health Assembly adopted the Global Health Sector Strategy on Hepatitis for 2016-2021, followed by the 2022-2030 strategy targeting sexually transmitted infectious diseases, aiming to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health concern by 2030.
Dr. Zhouhejun China and Dr. Canjun Zheng from the CDC emphasized the significant impact of hepatitis B on the younger generation globally and pledged collaboration with Sierra Leone to share experiences in combating the viral disease.
Representing the WHO in Sierra Leone, Dr. Thompson Igbu acknowledged the government’s efforts to eradicate viral hepatitis by 2030, considering it a crucial step in fortifying the healthcare system to offer comprehensive viral hepatitis services.
Deputy Minister Charles Senessie reiterated that the National Hepatitis Policy and Strategy document stems from extensive research and is a roadmap for primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention measures. He emphasized the necessity for sustained healthcare intervention and prevention methods to combat the disease effectively.
Hepatitis, classified by the WHO as liver inflammation caused by infectious viruses or non-infectious agents, poses severe health risks, some of which can be fatal. It primarily spreads through ingestion of contaminated food or water carrying the infected person’s feces.
Mr. Edward Jeffery Boima, who battled hepatitis after testing positive in Senegal in 2014, shared his challenging experience and financial burden caused by the disease. He highlighted the urgent need for medication and praised the Ministry of Health officials for their swift action, aiding in his recovery upon returning to Sierra Leone.
Appealing for support, ministry officials and donors urged the National Alliance Against Hepatitis Sierra Leone (NAAH-SL) to intensify community awareness campaigns, stressing the importance of preventive measures to curb the disease’s spread. AJ/11/12/2023