World Hepatitis Day: Health workers decry poor attention by govt to disease

Concerned health workers have decried the poor attention being paid to the management of Hepatitis in Nigeria, despite the high prevalence of the disease in the country.

They spoke on Friday in Abuja when some organisations went to the internally displaced persons camp in Durumi to conduct testing and provide vaccination for Hepatitis B.

The unintended collaboration by May Palette, a volunteer organisation for local artists in Abuja, and Golden Cross Agency – a non-profit agency, was in observance of the annual World Hepatitis Day which holds every July 28.

“Government is supposed to play a coordination role” said Abiye Kalaiwo, a doctor who was at the event at the camp through a partnership with Golden Cross Agency, Fidson Pharmacy and MedBridge.

He pointed out the inefficiency of government for two different organisations showing up at the camp to do the same work, saying the Federal Ministry of Health should have helped organisations to coordinate and better allocate their resources, “instead of going to block the road like they do every year.”

He was referring to the practice by officials of the ministry who try to raise awareness about Hepatitis B on the occasion of the World Hepatitis Day by disrupting traffic on roads.

Mr. Kalaiwo, who specialises in HIV/AIDS health care, lamented that despite the prevalence of Hepatitis in the country, Nigeria receives “some $450 million every year for HIV/AIDS, but next to nothing for Hepatisis.”

Vaccines for Hepatitis B cost upward of N30,000 and are thus too expensive for the average Nigerian, let alone for people in an IDP camp, he said.

Speaking in the same vein, Isa Umar, a volunteer nurse at the Durumi IDPs Camp, said: “Organizations come here to do HIV testing, but Hepatisis is a common sickness.”

Mr. Umar said although vaccines for Hepatitis are more needed in the camp than HIV testing, resources for Hepatitis vaccines are scarce.

Mr. Kalaiwo said the reason why much funding does not exist for the virus is because “it’s not a public health concern for people in the west”.

This situation motivated the founder of May Palette, Tola Ijaiya, to hold an exhibit at the Transcorp Hilton last week to raise awareness about the disease as well as mobilise funds to purchase vaccines for people in the IDPs camp.

Hepatitis vaccinations have become part of routine childhood vaccinations in western countries like the U.S. since 1994. The US Center for Disease and Control, CDC, estimates that roughly 2000 people die from liver diseases caused by Hepatitis.

Though Nigeria has also been vaccinating children against Hepatitis since the 1990s, Mr. Kalaiwo said an estimated 17 million Nigerians are living with the virus and 90 per cent of those do not know they are infected.

“We are happy and we appreciate them coming,” said Liyatu Ayuba who is Women’s Leader at Durumi Area 1 IDP camp.

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“No be small money to get the vaccine,” said Mrs. Ayuba who knows first-hand the struggles of people in the camp.

Mr. Kalaiwo said his organisation was able to screen over 300 people in the camp while May Palette provided vaccines for 50 people through proceeds from their exhibit, additional donations from ordinary donors and their partnership with Medic Aid.

“It’s you and I, ordinary citizens, that are going to have to deal with this virus just like we’ve done today,” said Mr. Kalaiwo.


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