A HEPATITIS-FREE FUTURE: FIND THE MISSING MILLIONS.
By Ian Ndlovu, PSYCHIATRIC NURSE
Viral hepatitis remains a public health problem which continues to claim thousands of lives every year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) set a target to eliminate hepatitis by the year 2030. “Find the missing millions” is this year’s theme for World Hepatitis Day. This can only be achieved through intense screening of at-risk populations, raising public awareness, community awareness, service integration, multi-sectoral approach, as well as strong linkages system that will see to a smooth transition into a hepatitis-free future.
Globally, 325 million people have confirmed viral hepatitis infections. On the other hand, approximately 290 million people are unaware that they are living with hepatitis.
This is a big number which we cannot afford to ignore. Given the magnitude of people unaware of suffering from hepatitis against those who have been diagnosed, there is need for robust interventions in order to curb this illness before it claims more lives than it already has.
Dublin Simon Community as an organisation plays a pivotal role in the reduction of hepatitis infection cases so as to achieve the WHO 2030 strategy. Within the organisation there is a BLOOD BORNE VIRUS UNIT which admits clients who are HIV or Hepatitis C positive. For an individual to be admitted, they must ascertain their Hepatitis C status. In a way, it promotes testing and helps in increasing the number of people who become aware of their Hepatitis status, which then guides them to take appropriate action depending on that status. In the BBV unit, all clients who are Hepatitis C positive are linked to the appropriate organisation so that they can receive their Hepatitis C treatment. For the clients who arrive already on treatment, staff make sure that the treatment regimen and appointments (for medication pick up, review, etc.) are adhered to in order to curb the infection. For those who come without appointments or who would have forgotten their appointment, one is arranged for them. All these arrangements are usually done in collaboration with the client’s GP.
A safe environment is created within the unit to prevent needle stick injuries which may contribute to new hepatitis C infections, something we are trying to eradicate globally. In the unit, sharp boxes are put in every bath room for safer sharps disposal. Staff members use sharps gloves when handling clients belonging to prevent being pricked or cut by sharp objects that may have been left by clients after use. Regular health and safety checks are done in the unit, they cover the removal of any sharp objects that may be found discarded in inappropriate places.
Clients are made to feel empowered and are educated on hepatitis infection, types, mode of transmission, mitigation strategies, and available treatment regimens. The devastating effects of the disease are also highlighted to the clients, so that they can be able to note them and seek medical help on time to alleviate effects and improve quality of life.
According to WHO, while 1:10 people test for hepatitis, 1:5 receive proper treatment. This reveals a significant gap, which calls for intensified testing, improved linkage services, and roping in the four pillars of primary health care: community involvement, appropriate technology, inter-sectoral coordination, and support mechanism.
By Ian Ndlovu, PSYCHIATRIC NURSE