The Director of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) of the University of Ghana, Professor Abraham Kwabena Annan, has called on the government to intensify the coverage of hepatitis B vaccination in the country as part of measures to keep the viral disease at bay.
He said although the country had made significant strides in the fight against the disease, including the adoption of a national guideline for the prevention, care and treatment of viral hepatitis, issues of low education, awareness and vaccination remained a major challenge.
He called on the government to build partnerships with health professionals, institutions and stakeholders to implement a vaccination plan that would help intensify coverage and precisely target vulnerable groups and communities.
Prof. Annan made the remarks in an interview at a meeting held at Legon in Accra yesterday to assess the progress of the hepatitis B, Malaria (HEPMAL) Project, a research programme implemented by the NMIMR.
Sponsored by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), the four-year project, which commenced six months ago, seeks to examine how hepatitis B and malaria interact as co-infection and explore ways the country could successfully combat viral hepatitis.
“It is clear that hepatitis needs certain attention which has been reasonably pursued. The challenge we have now is our coverage. How intensive has the education and awareness gone and what is the coverage for vaccination? Those are areas where we need to do a little bit more”.
“We should begin to look at the control of hepatitis B from the point of the health systems, the professionals, community and stakeholders. If we can bring the stakeholders together, we will then be able to target the vaccination more precisely, intensify it and have better coverage,” Prof. Annan proposed.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic diseases.
The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids such as the semen of an infected person.
The World Health Organisation figures show that an estimated 240 million people in the world are chronically infected with hepatitis B.
Prof. Annan expressed delight in the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, describing it as “a very positive thing” in the fight against the virus.
He commended the Ghana Health Service for prioritising high-risk groups in the first phase of the vaccination exercise because “there are vulnerable people in our population that if they get COVID-19, they may develop the very serious disease and could lead to their death.”
The Head of the Department of Immunology at the NMIMR, Dr Michael Ofori, said the institution would also build the capacities of some PhD students on hepatitis and malaria research as part of the HEPMAL Project.
He expressed the commitment of the institute to conduct quality research and proffer practicable solutions to advance Ghana’s fight against viral diseases.