Alliance calls for review of hepatitis vaccination policy

Kweku Agyeman Manu, Health Minister

The Hepatitis Alliance of Ghana on Wednesday urged government to review the policy on the administration of hepatitis vaccinations to new-born babies in the country.

It said authorities in charge of healthcare delivery must ensure that the hepatitis vaccine which is 98 per cent effective in preventing new infections are included in the Extended Programme on Immunization, and administered to new-borns within their first 12 hours of life.

Presently, at the health facilities, a new-born could only be vaccinated against the disease from six weeks of life, at the 10th and 14th weeks respectively, which is often late to protect them from the disease.

Mr Charles Ampong Adjei, the Executive Director of the Hepatitis Alliance of Ghana, said the disease is infecting and killing a lot on new-borns due to late vaccination and inadequate funding.

He said this at a training session organised in Accra by the Alliance to educate health workers.

He said in the Ghanaian context, hepatitis B, was mainly transmitted from a mother to a child, which “we have failed to deal with as a country because new-borns are left unprotected at the time they need it the most”.

He said data from the health facilities reveal that a total of 117,905 viral hepatitis cases were seen between 2014 and 2018 out of which 421 deaths were recorded.

Mr Adjei said it is about time the nation doubles-up efforts to break the stigma associated with the disease and inject more funds into its treatment, to prevent needless deaths among new-borns.

He said presently in Ghana, an adult population of 12.3 per cent were living with hepatitis B, but they hardly sought for medical help or disclosed their status due to stigma from health workers and society.

Mr Adjei said that cultural beliefs that hepatitis B was a form of punishment for people who touch a corpse without permission has made health worker extra cautious in handling them.

“Because health workers are afraid to get infected with the disease, many of them wear more than five gloves at a time to treat a patient, while others relegate some patients to the back thereby increasing their plight,” he said.

He called on policymakers to increase their financial and political commitment to enable health workers intensify efforts to eliminate the disease through public education and vaccination – for Ghana to attain the universal health coverage by 2030.

Mr Adjei said that Ghana belongs to the broad region where hepatitis infections were high and urged the public to help eliminate the disease by getting tested and seeking early treatment if they test positive.

Viral hepatitis B and C are leading infectious disease killers as it affects 325 million people worldwide leading to 1.4 million deaths very year.

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