MNH plans free Hepatitis treatment

MUHIMBILI National Hospital (MNH) plans to establish a diagnosis of hepatitis B virus and offer free treatment with Tenofovir medication to patients for five years effective next month.

MNH’s John Lwegasha, speaking in Dar es Salaam yesterday, said Tanzania becomes the second country after Rwanda within the East Africa to control and treat the disease. Dr Lwegasha said the programme will help in capacity building in making the therapy within the country, assuring sustainability and guaranteeing high quality of services.

It will also guarantee effectiveness in the use of World Health Organisation (WHO) issued guide on the treatment of hepatitis B. He said the hospital will provide the service in collaboration with America Centre for Disease Control (CDC), which will finance the service and provide free laboratory kits and reagents for the viral load and core antibodies.

“Other procedures of cost sharing for treatment in other areas of testing and consulting doctors will remain as usual...the service will be provided under Outside Patients Department’s (OPD) building through the liver diseases unit,” he explained. According to Dr Lwegasha, it is estimated that eight out of 100 people have Hepatitis B transmission in Tanzania.

“This rate is higher than the HIV/AIDS infection rate in the country...60 percent of patients diagnosed with liver cancer, have infection of hepatitis B viruses,” explained Dr Lwegasha.

He said studies indicate that the chance of getting Hepatitis B virus is ten times more than HIV, noting that despite the high risk associated with the fast spread of the disease, awareness remains a serious challenge.

He said the disease is caused by Hepatitis B virus and, like HIV, transmitted through unsafe sex, unscreened blood transfusion, syringe sharing and mother-tochild, especially during childbirth.

“As with HIV infection, Hepatitis B has no cure but medications that can decrease the infection and prevent further harm to the liver,” said Dr Lwegasha. Patients diagnosed with the disease should use the drugs for a time of not less than five years to enable the sick achieve the point of homemade immune system needed to control the disease. 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 of the infected person.An estimated 240 million people are infected with hepatitis B, defined as hepatitis B surface antigen positive for at least six months.

More than 686,000 people die every year due to complications of hepatitis B, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis B is a serious occupational hazard for health workers.

However, it can be prevented by currently available safe and effective vaccine. WHO recommends the use of oral treatments - tenofovir or entecavir, which are the most potent drugs to suppress hepatitis B virus.

They rarely lead to drug resistance as compared with other drugs, are simple to take, with only one pill daily, and have few side effects, requiring limited monitoring. However, the treatment hardly cures hepatitis B infection, but only suppresses the replication of the virus, compelling patients starting the treatment to continue with it for life.

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