Viral Hepatitis: FG Urged To Uphold Injection Safety Policy

Following the launch in Abuja last week of Africa’s first policy on viral hepatitis, the Federal Government has been urged to ensure realistic implementation of the policy through adoption of a robust national framework that would ensure safe injection practices and the use of non-re-usable safety syringes in all healthcare facilities and healthcare delivery points across the country.

Making the call in Lagos weekend, Executive Secretary, Global Initiative for Safe Injection and Medical Waste Management, GIFSI, Mr. Goddie Smith Ereoforiokuma, who raised concerns over proliferation of unsafe injection practices in the country, said instituting actionable measures that will enhance prevention of viral hepatitis was imperative and in tandem with the national policy on injection safety and healthcare waste management (2007).

Ereoforiokuma, who regretted the challenge of effective transition to exclusive use of safety syringes as prescribed by the national injection safety policy, said the recent call by the World Health Organisation, WHO, advocating greater attention on injection safety and use of safety syringes as a focal strategy, was essential towards reducing the scourge of viral hepatitis globally.

“You will note that the focus of World Hepatitis Day this year is on prevention with emphasis on injection safety and vaccination. According to the WHO, approximately two million people a year contract hepatitis from unsafe injections. These infections can be averted through the use of sterile syringes that are specifically designed to prevent reuse.

 “Except for the short-lived effort to ban the use of re-usable standard disposable syringes and enforcement of use of safety syringes by former Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, the late Prof Dora Akunyili, the nation has consistently paid lip service to implementation of the national policy on injection safety introduced eight years ago,” he stated.

Further, the GIFSI spokesperson said through implementation of the new viral hepatitis policy, Nigerians are hopeful that, the nation would follow the example of Egypt which has successfully attracted global attention in assuming active participatory role as reward for commitment to a sustained and organised comprehensive viral hepatitis control agenda.

“This year for example, WHO/WHA selected Egypt as the venue for its world hepatitis day flagship activities, This is  a nation that has 10 percent of its 15-59yrs age bracket population infected with Hepatitis C. Today Egypt has 32 treatment centres where more than 350,000 people were treated between 2007 and 2014.

Further, Ereoforiokuma said: “In the area of prevention, WHO is helping Egypt develop national ‎blood safety standards and has selected ‎it as one of three pilot ‎countries for its new Global ‎Injection Safety Initiative.‎ WHO will also provide support over the next three years to ‎reduce unnecessary ‎injections and help the nation’s transition to ‎the exclusive use of single use safety syringes.

“It is hoped that there is light at the end of Nigeria’s dark tunnel of viral hepatitis burden, given the new policy on the control of viral hepatitis which has injection safety as one of its pivotal component strategies in its 2015-2019 strategic plan as well as the new posture of WHO to focus on injection safety as a key strategy towards reducing the global disease burden of viral hepatitis.”

With a national prevalence of 13.7 percent, Nigeria is endemic for hepatitis B & C viruses, and the launch of the viral hepatitis control policy effectively keys the nation into the World Health Organisation, WHO resolution 63.18 (WHA 63.18) which recognises viral hepatitis as a global health problem, and highlights the need for governments and populations to take action on prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Launch of the national policy on the control of viral hepatitis is the culmination of the work of the Technical Working Committee on the Control of Viral Hepatitis that was inaugurated in December 2013.

Anchored by the National HIV/AIDS & STI Control programme, NASCP, unit of the FMOH, the TWC is articulating a comprehensive plan in the medium to long term to ensure an orchestrated effort towards meeting the objectives and desired outcomes of the policy.

An apex Ministry source told Vanguard that the new policy aims to reduce the morbidity, mortality and associated socio economic impact of viral hepatitis in Nigeria as its overall goal.  It establishes key objectives and outcomes for Nigeria’s national hepatitis control programme.

“This policy is a strategic working document that clearly outlines a roadmap with articulated timelines will enable development partners and interested entities to provide technical and financial support in specific areas.”

The policy also seeks to define actions, roles and responsibilities of all relevant stakeholders and lays the groundwork for the development of a strategic plan and clinical guidelines for the prevention and control of viral hepatitis (A,B,C,D and E) in Nigeria.

Viral Hepatitis B & C which are the most deadly of viral hepatitis infections cause acute and chronic infections of the liver which lead to cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. Hepatitis B & C together cause approximately 80 percent of all liver cancer deaths and kill close to 1.4 million people every year.

Ambassador and Face of Nigeria’s drive for the control of viral hepatitis Former Head of State, Rtd. General Yakubu Gowon, is expected to bring credibility to the initiative and his participation underscores the seriousness attached to the nation’s resolve to tackle the hepatitis scourge that currently has over 20 million Nigerians infected

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