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Somalia, WHO renew efforts to tackle viral hepatitis

Friday July 28, 2023

FILE - Doctors walking along a hospital corridor. Photo: Mohamed Abdihakim Ali/World Bank

MOGADISHU, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Somali health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday renewed their commitment to eliminating viral hepatitis in the country.

Somalia's Ministry of Health and the WHO said in a joint statement issued in the Somali capital of Mogadishu to mark World Hepatitis Day that they are working to achieve the global goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030.

"To reach this goal, the WHO supports the federal and state ministries of health in enhancing access to universal health coverage, including hepatitis testing, treatment and vaccines," the WHO said.

The UN health agency has called for scaling up testing and treatment for viral hepatitis, warning that the disease could kill more people than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV combined by 2040 if current infection trends continue.

Aweiys Hersi Hashi, manager of the National Hepatitis Program at the Ministry of Health, lauded the critical support extended by the WHO country office in managing the disease burden of hepatitis in Somalia, including blood transfusion screenings and integrating the vaccine into childhood immunization schedules.

"We are struggling to expand these services to every part of the country, for which we will urge the partners to support the WHO and the ministry to expand the service to ensure the goals of universal health coverage in Somalia could be achieved," Hersi said.

This year, the hepatitis campaign is under the slogan "One Life, One Liver," emphasizing the link between viral hepatitis infection and liver inflammation.

Although the Ministry of Health, together with the WHO and other partners, has made progress in improving access to hepatitis testing and treatment, the road toward elimination is a long one. Limited data availability in Somalia adds to the challenges of combating viral hepatitis despite the progress made in improving access to hepatitis testing and treatment, the WHO said, noting that 2.5 million people in Somalia are estimated to live with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) and C (HCV).

Rogers Busulwa from the WHO country office said collecting data is crucial for understanding the burden of viral hepatitis beyond blood donor populations.

"It is also critical to prioritize the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis. There is significant potential to leverage the efforts of the HIV program to support these efforts," Busulwa added.

Hepatitis, a viral infection that primarily affects the liver and can cause lasting damage and inflammation, is a global health concern that particularly affects low- and middle-income countries, including Somalia, according to the WHO.

Limited resources, insufficient healthcare infrastructure, and low awareness all contribute to high transmission rates and limited access to testing and treatment, it said.