A Consultant Gastroenterologist at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Dr. Kolawole Akande says a majority of Nigerians are not aware of their hepatitis C status.
He said when hepatitis C is left untreated, it can cause severe liver damage and, potentially, liver cancer.
Akande, in an interview with our correspondent, noted that the 2018 Nigeria HIV/ AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey showed that there is a 1.1 per cent prevalence rate of the infection among Nigerians.
“This means that out of every 100 Nigerian, one person is positive. So, if our population is 200 million, for instance, we are talking about 2 million Nigerians living Hepatitis C in Nigeria,” he said.
Akande, who is also a lecturer at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, said the signs and symptoms of the infection are often mild or non-existent, and getting screened is the only way to know if one has hepatitis C.
“The awareness of hepatitis C generally is very poor. This is the same with hepatitis B even though it’s a bit better with hepatitis B than C.
“Many people are not even aware that there is anything called hepatitis C and that is a problem because most of the time, hepatitis C usually doesn’t have a symptom.
“It is only when it destroys the liver that the person will know. So, the awareness is poor and the rate of testing of hepatitis C is poor in Nigeria,” he said.
Akande noted that everyone is expected to do a hepatitis test at least once in a lifetime.
“There are some people that are at risk of having hepatitis C. For instance, somebody who has kidney problems and is on hemodialysis. Those people in the habit of illicit drug use are prone to having hepatitis C. People that are receiving blood frequently or blood products should check for hepatitis C from time to time.
“People who use sharp objects indiscriminately like people that do tattoos with unsterilized tools, people that do circumcision, people that share public clippers, and people who engage in unprotected sexual intercourse are advised to screen for hepatitis C.
“Health workers are also at risk of hepatitis C,” the gastroenterologist said.
Adding, he said there is no vaccination for hepatitis C, unlike hepatitis B.
“Hepatitis C is a curable infection. There are drugs patients can take to cure the infection and that is why we advocate that people should screen for hepatitis C because if they are positive, there are effective medications that are relatively affordable to take before the infection damages the liver.
“We know that the liver is very important in the body; the liver is the gateman between whatever comes through the mouth and the body.
“Majorly, it affects and damages the liver. Although, it can damage other organs outside the liver like the kidney. It can cause lymphoma.
“We can prevent it by avoiding the behaviour that will lead to the accusation of the virus. Unfortunately, hepatitis C has no vaccination because the virus changes rapidly. It has seven genotypes, almost 70 subtypes and because of these different strains, it has made vaccination difficult as of today.
“The best thing to do to prevent it is to avoid risky behaviours.
“If people are going to get blood, they should make sure the blood is transfused in standard hospitals run by qualified professionals and government approved.
“People should refrain from indiscriminate use of sharp objects, and if they must, they must ensure that the objects are sterilised,” he advised.
The gastroenterologist said the problem with hepatitis C is that even if someone has a cure, it does not prevent the person from acquiring hepatitis C again.
“This is because there is no vaccine for it. One can have a strain of hepatitis C and if the person continues with the risky behaviour, he can acquire additional strain on top of the one he has. So we should avoid the risky behaviours that can lead to hepatitis C
“Also, the majority of the people pay out-of-pocket when they get to the hospital and that limits the number of investigations to do. Ideally, everyone should screen for hepatitis C.
“When you screen for hepatitis C first and it’s positive, it does not mean that the person has hepatitis C now. It might mean that the person has hepatitis C now or he has had it in the past and he has cleared that.
“To differentiate that, he has to do a second test and the test is expensive. It’s not less than N30,000. It is only when you have done that you can ascertain that the person has a current hepatitis C infection and you want to go ahead and treat the person.
“Unfortunately, you find out that once someone tests positive to hepatitis C and you ask them to go for a confirmatory test, the majority of them cannot afford it,” he said.
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