DURBAN - As the world commemorates Hepatitis Day today, organisations meet with government leadership for an advocacy and training roundtable, to help drive efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in South Africa.
The International Network on Health and Hepatitis in Substance Users (INHSU), TB HIV Care, South African Network of People Who Use Drugs (Sanpud) will join Deputy Minister of Social Development Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, Deputy Minister of Health Mathume Joseph Phaahla among others at the virtual roundtable.
According to Sampud in South Africa three million people are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and 400-800 thousand people are living with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.
Globally 325 million people are living with viral hepatitis, and it causes 1.4 million deaths per year – more than HIV/Aids and malaria, it said.
The aim of the event is to highlight the viral hepatitis burden and need for action, provide information and training on the hepatitis B and C viruses, and to provide an opportunity for people to come together in efforts to advance the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat.
HBV and HCV are spread through blood. HBV can also be transmitted through other bodily fluids.
HBV and HCV can be spread through the use of contaminated injecting equipment, condom-less anal intercourse among men who have sex with men, especially if they are HIV-positive, from shared tattooing needles, ink and inkwells, sharing personal care items that may have blood on them, transfusion with unscreened blood and blood products, needle stick accidents or other occupational exposures, medical or dental care with unsterilised equipment. HBV can also be spread from mother to infant during pregnancy.
“Viral hepatitis is underdiagnosed and undertreated. Globally, 13% of all HBV infections are diagnosed and only 2% of people requiring HBV treatment are receiving it while 32% of all HCV infections are diagnosed with only 16% of people receiving treatment,” said the organisation.
Sanpud said the National Guidelines for the Management of Viral Hepatitis (2019) identifies people who inject drugs and people in prison as populations that are particularly affected by viral hepatitis. The eradication of viral hepatitis needs the implementation of effective policies, specifically for these groups of people.
Angela McBride, director of Sanpud, said one of the guiding principles of the national guidelines is that all South Africans should have access to diagnosis, preventative measures and treatment for viral hepatitis.
For Sanpud, the eradication of viral hepatitis among people who use drugs will require their inclusion in developing and implementing measures that have a wide reach.
“We have invited members from our network to participate in this event both as attendees and as facilitators to build and share their knowledge base and advocacy skills. This is so we can effectively champion for the harm reduction services necessary to eradicate viral hepatitis in our local communities,” said McBride.
Dr Andrew Scheibe, the technical advisor for TB HIV Care Stigma, said discrimination towards people who use drugs may be stopping them from seeking treatment. About 55% of the estimated 82 500 people who inject drugs are estimated to be living with HCV.
Scheibe said fears of arrest, imprisonment, stigma, and discrimination that people who use drugs face prevents many of them from accessing healthcare services.
“This increases the need for harm reduction services designed and delivered with and by people who use drugs to eradicate viral hepatitis, as well as HIV, an important step towards eliminating these diseases in the country and region,” he said.
Sanpud said educating people who use drugs and other people at risk about how they can contract the disease, how to prevent this and its transmission is a task that requires national government intervention.
INHSU executive director Emma Day said the current numbers globally and in South Africa have created the “need for coordinated advocacy endeavours and consistent messaging to progress viral hepatitis elimination efforts in South Africa”.
The event takes place 11am-1pm on July 28, and is open to physicians, nurses, community workers, people with lived experience, and anyone with an interest in the health and wellbeing of people who use drugs.
CLICK HERE to register for the event.