The Ghana Health Service is seeking to add Hepatitis B to diseases that newborns are immunized against.

The at-birth-dose will bring to four the jabs given to the babies.

This was disclosed at the lunch of a National Policy on Viral Hepatitis by the Ghana Health Service to mark World Hepatitis Day.

Statistics by the health service indicates that one in ten Ghanaians have been diagnosed with a variant of Hepatitis, translating into about 2.5 million Ghanaians living with the disease.

A lack of knowledge about hepatitis among Ghanaians have been identified as a major setback to fighting the disease.

Joy News’ Hannah Odame, who was at the launch the World Hepatitis Day in Ghana Tuesday, said health officials are currently focusing on the prevention of Viral Hepatitis – which is a combination of all the variants of the disease, namely Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.

National Programme Director of the policy to prevent Viral Hepatitis, Dr Emmanuel Dotse, told Joy News the aim of the policy is to provide effective surveillance of the disease and to promote access to safe and affordable diagnostics testing.

The Director of Public Health at GHS, Dr Badu Sarkodie, said there was a need to spread knowledge about the disease and emphasize its preventability.

Various studies conducted in Ghana indicates that Hepatitis B is endemic in Ghana with prevalence rates ranging from 6.7% to 10% in blood donors, 6.4% in pregnant women  and 15.6% in children among the general population.

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).  The hepatitis B virus is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV.  HBV has caused epidemics in parts of Asia and Africa. 

About a third of the world population has been infected at one point in their lives, including 350 million who are chronic carriers.

Transmission of hepatitis B virus results from exposure to infectious blood or body fluids.  Modes of transmission include sexual contact, blood transfusions and transfusion with other human blood products; re-use of contaminated needles and syringes, and vertical transmission from mother to child (MTCT) during childbirth.

Other risk factors for developing HBV infection include working in a healthcare setting, transfusions, dialysis, acupuncture, tattooing, body piercing, sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person. 

However, hepatitis B viruses cannot be spread by holding hands, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, kissing, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding.

Acute infection with hepatitis B virus is characterised by sudden onset of general ill-health, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, body aches, mild fever, and dark urine, and then progresses to development of jaundice. The illness lasts for a few weeks and then gradually improves in most affected people. A few people may have more severe liver disease (fulminating hepatic failure), and may die as a result. The infection may be entirely asymptomatic and may go unrecognized.

General signs and symptoms of Viral Hepatitis:

• Sudden onset of general ill-health

• Mild fever, Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) and dark urine

• Loss of appetite Extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain

• Infected children are often asymptomatic

• The infection may be entirely asymptomatic and may go unrecognized

Measures for prevention and control of Viral Hepatitis in the country

Following WHO adopted resolution WHA63.18 in 2010, Ghana Health Service/MOH established the National Viral Hepatitis Surveillance and Control Programme (NVHSCP) in 2011 and appointed the first substantive Programme Manager.

The NVHSCP is charged with the responsibility of co-ordinating the national response to the viral hepatitis menace.