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Advocacy for subsidized hepatitis treatment

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By Mercy Kelani

This request was made by stakeholders at the project inception meeting.

Stakeholders have called for subsidization or free charge of the testing and treatment of viral hepatitis in Nigeria under the National Health Insurance Act (NHIA) or the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF). This request was made at the project inception meeting and inauguration of the community advisory board on the hepatitis C prevention combination project in Nigeria, which was held in Abuja. This disease is an inflammation of the liver which could lead to fibrosis (scarring), liver cancer or cirrhosis.

The disease is most commonly caused by hepatitis viruses across the world. However, other kinds of infections, autoimmune diseases, and toxic substances — which include alcohol and certain drugs — could also cause the disease. The Deputy Director of the Viral Hepatitis Desk, National AIDS and STDs Control Programme of the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Ganiyu Jamiyu, affirmed that the country has an average prevalence of 8.1 percent and 1.1 percent of hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus respectively.

Awareness should be increased through sustainable community campaigns.

He added that although, in recent times, market-shaping efforts have achieved impressive reductions in the prices of diagnostic and treatment commodities by 50 percent, more efforts need to be made because the disease is related with high out-of-pocket costs. It is necessary to increase awareness through sustainable community campaigns and mass media. There should also be an exploration of different financing mechanisms to ensure free or subsidized treatment of the virus such as BHCPF or the NHIA.

It is likewise necessary that viral hepatitis (VH) screening is scaled up among hard-to-reach areas in Nigerian states and key population, while ensuring resilience of referral system for patients of the disease. As part of the Federal Government’s efforts to improve the response to the virus, the national viral hepatitis control programme was founded in 2013, and the National Technical Working Group, and the development of a national policy on VH in 2015. It also developed injection safety policy and universal precaution in 2007, implemented in almost all government facilities.

About 19 million people in Nigeria are living with hepatitis B and C.

Also, the National Blood Service Commission was established in 2021 to ensure coordination, regulation and provision of quality blood products, blood, and services. The National Coordinator of NASCP, Dr. Adebobola Bashorun, asserted that about 19 million people in Nigeria are living with hepatitis B and C. The country also has a national programme that attends to all hepatitis infections. The programme has a national guideline that guides prevention, treatments, and immunizations as the disease can be prevented through immunization.

Technical Officer of HIV and hepatitis from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Nigeria, Dr. Oluwafunke Ilesanmi-Odunlade, stated that the meeting was to figure out ways to ensure prevention of hepatitis C among people who inject drugs. She added that the implementation and advocacies of programmes are targeted at different populations. Hepatitis C has a prevalence among people who inject drugs, and they exchange needles when they do the injection. She said that WHO Nigeria is working with them because their population is not as large as the general population.

FG is collaborating with stakeholders to address the issue.

Ilesanmi-Odunlade asserted that majority of the organization’s health services are done out-of-pocket as it is quite expensive to get a diagnosis. However, Nigeria is still making efforts as the federal government is collaborating with stakeholders to address the issue. The Practice Lead of Society for Family Health, Godpower Omoregie, said that the meeting was organized to solicit support from national and state actors to create a conducive environment for protocol development and the complete implementation of the project.

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