African experts meet in Senegal to fight hepatitis

African experts meet in Senegal to fight hepatitis

Experts from various French-speaking countries in Africa met this week (20-22 July 2013) in the Senegalese capital Dakar to look for urgent solutions to drive prevention, awareness, research and management of hepatitis through national action plans in participating countries, the Initiative Panafricaine de Lutte Contre les Hepatites (IPLH) said.

The experts included clinicians, physicians, patient groups and policy makers, and this group was joined by representatives from the English Africa initiative “Hepatitis in Africa – Call for Action.

All of them formulated a unified call for action towards shaping effective hepatitis policy.  The participating countries are Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central Africa, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Chad, Togo and Tunisia.

Hepatitis B and C are among the most serious infectious disease challenges impacting individuals, families and society today, IPLH said in a statement, adding that both viral hepatitis B and C are the leading cause of chronic liver disease in the world.  “This is of particular importance in Africa where a fifth of the population are chronic hepatitis carriers and liver cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in men,” the statement added.

Commonly striking men in the 30-45 age group and with virtually 100 percent mortality, the economic impact of liver cancer and thus hepatitis is enormous, the organisation said.

About 1 million deaths per year are attributed to viral hepatitis infections, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said. Nearly one out of every three people in the world (approximately 2 billion people) has been infected by HBV, and one in 12 live with chronic HBV or HCV infection, WHO added.

Despite the health and economic impact of viral hepatitis, hepatitis B and C remain under-diagnosed and under-reported in Africa.  IPLH deplored the limited funds put aside to battle hepatitis infection, and also decried the lack of community advocacy and awareness.

Prof Aminata Sall Diallo, Programme National de Lutte contre les Hépatites (PNLH)  executive director and IPLH coordinator,  said: “By developing strategies for data harmonisation, shared resources, and by bringing together research expertise across all of Africa, we can effectively assess the burden of hepatitis B and C, learn more about the risk factors and improve efforts in diagnosis, management and prevention.”

The event in Dakar will set the roadmap to action against hepatitis with the involvement of local, regional and international stakeholders, Diallo added.

MSD Africa V-P and MD Henrik Secher, said: “We support the efforts of governments and healthcare professionals in Africa to prevent transmission and improve detection of hepatitis. MSD’s engagement in this initiative is part of our commitment to discover, develop and deliver medicines to help prevent and treat viral hepatitis.”

Photo: courtesy of Isidore Akollor/IRIN/Reliefweb. A medical centre in Togo, West Africa.

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