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Stakeholders urge govt to subsidize hepatitis treatment

By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Abuja
06 September 2023   |   7:12 pm
Stakeholders in the health sector have called on the federal government to fully subsidize or make free testing and treatment of Viral Hepatitis (VH) in the country the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) or the National Health Insurance Act(NHIA).

Stakeholders in the health sector have called on the federal government to fully subsidize or make free testing and treatment of Viral Hepatitis (VH) in the country the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) or the National Health Insurance Act(NHIA).

Meanwhile, the federal government has expressed Nigeria’s commitment to ensure universal access to Hepatitis services, as indicated in the National Hepatitis Policy.

Speaking at the project inception meeting on Hepatitis C Prevention Combination Project (HEPC3P) yesterday in Abuja, Deputy Director, Viral Hepatitis Desk, National AIDS and STIs Control Programme (NASCP), Ministry of Health, Dr. Ganiyu Jamiyu, noted that Nigeria has an average prevalence of 8.1 per cent of Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and 1.1 per cent of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), a situation that persists due to limited access to viral hepatitis services.

The meeting organized by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) in collaboration with the Society for Family Health (SFH), Drug Free and Presentation Healthcare Organization (DAPHO) and Education as a Vaccine (EVA) through funding support from UNITAID was to chart ways to prevent hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

Jamiyu pointed out that access to Viral Hepatitis services in the country is limited due to high cost of treatment HBV and HCV Diagnosis and Treatment.

He observed that diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis B and C is associated with high out-of-pocket costs, adding that HBV and HCV diagnosis and treatment are done in institutions such as NIMR, tertiary public and private health facilities.

Jamiyu decried the poor funding of Viral hepatitis control programme at federal, state and local government levels.

He stressed the need to integrate and link services, and responses to provide people-centered services that also leverage efficiency at the Primary Healthcare centres (PHCs); adding that though, recent market-shaping efforts has yielded significant price reductions by 50 per cent of diagnostic and treatment commodities, more still needs to be done as diagnosis and treatment of HBV and HCV is associated with high out- of- pocket costs.

Jamiyu noted that there should be sustained advocacy for more funding of VH control programmes and increased awareness through sustainable mass media and community campaigns.

“Scale up viral hepatitis screening among key population and hard to reach areas in states and strengthening of referral system for VH patients.”

He said that part of the efforts by the Federal Government to scale up response to the disease was the establishment of the National VH Control Programme in 2013, inauguration of the National Technical Working Group (TWG) and the development of a national policy on VH in 2015.

Others are national programme on immunization which started in 2004, injection control and blood safety, which ensured that since 2005, Nigeria has routinely screened all donated blood and blood products for HBV and HCV.

“Injection safety policy including universal precaution exists since 2007 and is implemented in most government facilities. Establishment of the National Blood Service Commission (NBSC) to coordinate, regulate and ensure the provision of quality blood, blood products and services (2021).”

Also speaking, National Coordinator of NASCP, Dr. Adebobola Bashorun, explained that Viral Hepatitis is an infective hepatitis that is transmitted through viruses and that about 19 million Nigerians are living with both diseases.

Bashorun added that the viruses are blood related infections through either sharing of needle or sexual practices adding that Nigeria has a national programme that is looking at every VH infection.

He said, “So in that national programme which started about 10 years ago, we have a national guideline that tells us what we should do in terms of prevention, treatments and immunizations because it is an immunization preventable disease, especially hepatitis B. So hepatitis C can be treated and that is a plus while the others cannot be treated but be controlled and managed so the country sees treatment as a priority for those that have been infected while we still try a lot to prevent people from getting infected.

“So as a country we have a robust guideline that starts from control in the population, prevention so that people can’t be affected, tests if you are infected, treatments for hepatitis C and you can be cured.”

Dr. Oluwafunke Ilesanmi-Odunlade, the Technical Officer of HIV and VH, World Health Organization (WHO) Country Office in Nigeria, said that the meeting was to chart ways to prevent hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

According to her, the advocacies and implementation of programmes target different populations as vaccination focuses on prevention in children while some others focus on managing or treating the diseases for older populations.

“We are addressing different populations to ensure that we work on what affects them most, that is why the focus for viral hepatitis B prevention is on children.

“Now for People Who Inject Drugs (PWID), the practice of injection drugs, they exchange needles and HVC is common among them.

“That is why what we are doing today is to address HVC among them, thankfully, it is a population group that you can contain in the sense that you can map them, you know the PWIDs and they are not as large as the general population that is why we are working with them.”

Ilesanmi-Odunlade said that a lot was being done on blood transfusion, adding that hospitals are mandated to ensure that blood for transfusion is screened for Hepatitis B and C, HIV and some other diseases.

She however noted that the challenge being experienced with hepatitis was diagnostics and treatments because they are quite expensive.

“Most of our health services are being provided for out-of-pocket. If we go to the hospital, we pay even if we have health insurance, but basically, it is still out-of-pocket. So, it is expensive to get diagnosis and to have the different tests that you need to do you might be needing up to N50, 000.

“This is where the challenges are but the country is not resting on its oars as the Federal Government is working together with the various stakeholders to address this particular area”, she added.

The Practice Lead, Society for Family Health (SFH), Mr. Godpower Omoregie, said that the meeting was aimed at soliciting for support from the national and state actors for an enabling environment for protocol development and the overall project implementation.

He added that it is to catalyze and enhance the visibility of the national response to VH and facilitate an active sense of ownership by the government for its sustainability beyond the project implementation.

It is to also provide a national platform for initiating active and ongoing engagement between implementing partners, community members and other stakeholders.

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