It has been described as the silent killer and information available on it indicates that it is more dangerous than HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
But viral hepatitis has not yet been given the necessary attention in Ghana, as more than 80 per cent of people living with this dreaded disease lack prevention, testing and treatment.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver and can progress to disfiguring of the liver, cirrhosis or liver cancer. Although at least five viruses – A, B, C, D, E – can cause hepatitis, the three most common are hepatitis viruses A, B and C, and infection by any of these three can be fatal.
The disease can also be caused by alcohol and drug intake. Hepatitis A and E are caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, while hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of contact with infected body fluids. The modes of transmission of the viruses include blood transfusion with contaminated blood or blood products, as well as the use of contaminated equipment.
In addition to these, Hepatitis B can be transmitted from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child and by sexual contact.
The incidence of the hepatitis viruses has wide implications for society because aside from the burden of illness and death they cause, they have the potential to cause outbreaks and epidemics.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), for instance, says viruses B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
WHO figures show that more than 2.8 million people were infected with hepatitis in 2017 alone.
In truth, the cost burden on countries can be staggering. In the United States, for example, the cost of treating the about 3.7 million chronically infected hepatitis C patients at the estimated rate of $84,000 per patient will be $310 billion.
Meanwhile, total spending on all drugs for 2014 in that country was $360.7 billion.
In Ghana, 117,905 cases were seen between 2014 and 2018, out of which 421 people died.
But there is hope.
Unlike HIV and AIDS that have no known cure, hepatitis is preventable, treatable and, in the case of hepatitis B, curable.
It is needful to tackle potential problems before they escalate into complications that will be difficult to deal with.
It is in this vein that the Daily Graphic welcomes the launch of a national guideline for the prevention, care and treatment of viral hepatitis at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra yesterday.
Our hope is that the country will strive to create awareness of global viral hepatitis to influence change aimed at eliminating the disease by 2030, as set by the WHO.
The government and its development partners should thus help make funding available to make testing, vaccination and treatment services possible.
We also add our voice to that of the WHO Country Representative and ask the government and the health authorities to incorporate services pertaining to hepatitis into the universal health coverage.
The country must also strengthen and sustain its education on safe sex to prevent people from contracting the disease through that mode.
The Daily Graphic encourages the citizenry to visit the hospital when they see symptoms such as jaundice, dark urine, itchy skin, light-coloured faeces, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain because, for all you know, you may be living with a hepatitis virus.
In this way, we will all be helping to eliminate the disease by the next decade.