World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on 28 July to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer. This year’s theme is “Hepatitis can’t wait”, conveying the urgency of efforts needed to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. With a person dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis related illness – even in the current COVID-19 crisis – we can’t wait to act on viral hepatitis.
- Infected persons who are unaware of their status can’t wait for testing;
- People living with hepatitis can’t wait for life saving treatments;
- Expectant mothers can’t wait for hepatitis screening and treatment;
- Newborn babies can’t wait for birth dose vaccination;
- People affected by hepatitis can’t wait to end stigma and discrimination;
- Community-based organisations can’t wait for greater investment;
- Decision makers can’t wait any longer. They must act now to make hepatitis elimination a reality through political support and funding.
All countries in Africa consider viral hepatitis an urgent public health issue. The burden of viral hepatitis is believed to be one of the highest in this part of the world. Hepatitis A, B, C and E are the types mostly found in the region. Ghana belongs to the areas where the prevalence of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection are high at ≥8% and 5-10% respectively. National hepatitis B prevalence is estimated at 11%. This is an estimate arrived at using prevalence among blood donors and pregnant women. Approximately, 4 million out of 28 million, potentially, have hepatitis B in Ghana.
There is thus a high burden of infection with resulting high prevalence of chronic liver disease and liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). In Ghana, HBV is considered to be of significant public health importance that requires greater attention and calls for urgent public health interventions and strategic policy directions to controlling the disease to avert any potential future explosion.
Hepatitis disease management is complex and costly, with many barriers to treatment efficacy. The management team includes specialist pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. Pharmacists are in a position to educate patients about the etiology, transmission, risk factors, and signs and symptoms of hepatitis and the various treatment options currently available. Through provision of patient counseling, pharmacists have an ideal opportunity to educate patients about the infection, its clinical course, characteristics of the medications used in its treatment, identification and prevention of drug interactions and prevention and management of adverse effects.
In addition, pharmacists can dispel patients’ misconceptions about HCV medications, including misinformation about adverse effects, complementary and alternative medicines, and duration of treatment. Since patients frequently discover inaccurate or outdated information regarding viral hepatitis online, a pharmacist can serve as an approachable resource, one who provides accurate facts about treatment.
Optimal treatment adherence is critical for achieving a sustained virologic response. Pharmacists can provide useful tools for patients to help prevent them from missing doses, including written treatment schedules, pill boxes, alarm reminders, and tips for linking medication administration with routine daily activities.
While the whole world seeks to find a permanent cure to this pandemic, let us not forget to play our respective roles in the fight against hepatitis because Hepatitis can’t wait!