About 12.7 million Nigerians live with Hepatitis B, the World Health Organization has said.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by a variety of infectious viruses and non-infectious agents, leading to a range of health problems, some of which can be fatal. There are five main strains of the hepatitis virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D, and E.
In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common causes of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and viral hepatitis-related deaths.
According to the 2021 viral hepatitis scorecard by the World Health Organisation an estimated 998,000 children under five years in Nigeria are chronic carriers of Hepatitis-B antigen while 11,679,000 Nigerians are chronic carriers of viral Hepatitis-B.
The scorecard taken from data from the African region focuses on Hepatitis B and C, both of which cause liver cirrhosis and cancer.
The research discovered that in 19 African countries, more than 8% of the population is infected with Hepatitis B, while in 18 countries, more than 1% of the population lives with Hepatitis C.
The Hepatitis B virus is most commonly transmitted from mother to child during birth and delivery, as well as through contact with blood or other body fluids during sex with an infected partner, unsafe injections, or exposure to sharp instruments.
The scorecard showed that Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of people who are chronic carriers of the deadliest strain of the virus among the listed 47 member states in the African region.
It noted that Nigeria’s prevalence of the anti-hepatitis C virus is at 1.3%.
The report noted that while Nigeria has a national hepatitis treatment programme and a national strategic plan for viral hepatitis, the hepatitis B immunisation coverage is at 58%.
According to the WHO, Africa accounts for roughly 70% of all hepatitis B infections worldwide. It can take decades after infection by the virus before an individual starts manifesting symptoms.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said, “Hepatitis has been called the silent epidemic, but this scorecard is sounding an alarm for the region and the world to hear.
“We must do better and stop this disease from stealing away our children’s future. There is a safe and effective vaccine that provides nearly 100% protections against Hepatitis B, one of the virus’s most lethal strains. We must ensure that all African children are vaccinated within 24 hours of their birth and are followed up with two or more doses of the vaccine. “