Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver most associated with infection from one of five hepatitis viruses. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C most commonly cause chronic infection leading to liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 354 million people worldwide are infected with Hepatitis B and C.
In 2019, the WHO estimated that 296 million people were living with chronic Hepatitis B infection, with 81 million in the WHO Africa region. There is no comprehensive data on the degree of chronic Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in Sierra Leone. Even less data is available on the prevalence in remote towns and districts, such as the Moyamba District and the Bumpeh Chiefdom. Data from the Hatfield Archer Memorial Hospital (HAMH) suggests that the prevalence of Hepatitis B is nine percent and Hepatitis C is three percent among people seen at the hospital under their own accord.
The most common route of transmission of the Hepatitis B virus is mother to child during birth. Additionally, exposure to infected blood prior to age five years (infected child exposes uninfected child) is also is significant. Hepatitis B infection in infancy and early childhood (less than age five) accounts for 90 – 95 percent of chronic Hepatitis B cases. In contrast, infection in adulthood accounts for less than five percent of cases. Following infection with Hepatitis B, it may take up to 30 years to show signs of chronic infection.
Hepatitis B infection is preventable with vaccination. The Hepatitis B vaccines are nearly 100 percent effective in preventing infection after the three-dose series. The WHO and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommend Hepatitis B vaccine be given at birth (within 24 hours) and at two months and six months of age. In Sierra Leone only 40 percent of children have received all age-appropriate vaccines by age of two. This percentage declines in more rural areas of the country, such as in Rotifunk. The low vaccination rate shows that there is a gap in complete vaccinations against Hepatitis B.
HAMH under the leadership of the laboratory staff have begun a project to test and vaccinate school age children. The staff will conduct a mass awareness campaign throughout Rotifunk on the risk of infection and ways to prevent it. Students in the senior high schools will be tested for Hepatitis B. If found to be uninfected, the student will be eligible for vaccinations.
Currently, 300 students have been enrolled in the project and tested. Two hundred and seventy students were eligible for vaccinations and received the first two of the three-dose series. The third dose will be administered this month (August). Thirty students were found to be infected and not eligible for vaccination. These students will be monitored to determine if treatment for Hepatitis B is necessary.
This important project hopes to test 1,500 students in the Rotifunk senior high schools and vaccinate everyone eligible. The project will expand as funding becomes available.