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Concerns over rising cases of hepatitis B, HIV amongst pregnant women

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Ahead of the World Hepatitis Day (WHD), July 28, 2018, a new study by researchers from Redeemer’s University has provided evidence on the transmission of hepatitis B and Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) through blood transfusion in pregnant women in Nigeria.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health (accepted) and Journal of Infection and Public Health (available online).

The scientists from the Redeemer’s University found that a significant epidemiological link exists in blood transfusion in the previous three months and that pregnant women in South- West Nigeria stood a good chance of being exposed to Hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS.

These two blood transmissible pathogens are well known and can threaten the integrity of blood products in such low-income countries as Nigeria.

According to the findings, “the overall prevalence of Hepatitis B in this high risk population was estimated at 10.5 per cent, which essentially implies that 10.5 per cent of pregnant women visiting ante-natal services in south-western Nigeria are potential carriers of the hepatitis B surface antigen, a common marker of HBV infection.

Similarly, about five per cent of the same population tested positive to HIV following a preliminary screening and a confirmatory evaluation of positive pregnant women.

However, a more disturbing finding emerging from the study is that pregnant women who underwent blood transfusion in the previous three months were nine times more likely to contract Hepatitis B and three times more likely to test HIV positive compared to pregnant women who did not have blood transfusion in the same period.”

The study is titled “Epidemiology of HIV and Tuberculosis in pregnant women, South West Nigeria.”

The researchers include: Professor of Medical Virology, Head of Department of Biological Sciences, Redeemer’s University and Head of Research group, Redeemers University, Isaac Komolafe: Lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences, Redeemer’s University and lead investigator on the study, Glory Atilola; Student researcher and investigator, Department of Biological Sciences, Redeemer’s University, Randle Taiwo Mayowa; Student researcher and investigator, Department of Biological Sciences, Redeemer’s University, Obadara Tomisin; Coordinator, The Redeemed AIDS Programme Action Committee (RAPAC), Dr. Olaide Adenuga; Lead programme Manager RAPAC and field technical research leader for this study, Gbenga Odutolu; and Counsellor and programming officer RAPAC and co-technical leader on the study, Josephine Olomu.

The researchers said given the observed high rate of blood- borne pathogen transmission in this population, the safety of the blood units received by these women remains a serious cause for concern.

They said this might call for further scientific inquiry to establish a clear transmission pathway in various healthcare centres in the different local communities.

“Stakeholders across all sectors and levels of intervention are therefore called upon to treat these findings as a clarion call for more decisive and targeted efforts to ward off barriers to safe blood supply and promote safe blood availability as the need arises.

A proactive approach to population health always yields a significant public health gain in the best interest of all, both in terms of economic implications and treatment options.

In this way, we as a country can stem a wider spread highly contagious pathogens such as the Hepatitis B virus at a time of rapid demographic growth,” they said.

To reverse the trend, the scientists said the infrastructural deficits, particularly provision of appropriate diagnostic tools for proper blood screening and early detection of HBV/HIV positive pregnant women across primary and community healthcare centers as well as regular supply services need to be addressed.

Importantly, they said, decision makers and support agencies should tackle the underlying determinants of these pathogens in Nigeria including poverty, low education and pregnant women/child malnutrition by committing more resources to deliver on their policy objectives.

They concluded: “In sum, healthcare providers are equally urged to ensure adequate screening of all pregnant women at ante-natal clinics and ensure that people giving consent to receiving Hepatitis B vaccine shot are given the vaccine option or early treatment options, bearing in mind that pregnant women retain the right to consent being tested and to be treated in accordance with the principles of the Universal Declaration of human rights enshrined in the Nigerian Federal Constitution.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently been leading efforts towards a sustainable blood transfusion safety through secure, affordable and readily available blood units in health facilities across Africa.

Such a drive has attracted renewed scholarly interest in epidemiological research into the potential realization of what might be described as a utopian vision in the light of Nigeria’s ailing health system infrastructure.

This study, according to the study presents credible and data-driven evidence to measure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3 and 10 relating to universal access to health services based on fairness and equity and for the overall health benefit and well being of all persons.


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