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Hepatitis Is Treatable – Professor Oudou Nyoya 

Interviewed by Leocadia Bongben — As Cameroon joined the international community to celebrate World Hepatitis Day on July 28 with 4.5 million Cameroonians suffering from the disease, Professor Oudou Nyoya, former Dean in charge of Research at the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences, University of Yaounde 1, has debunked allegations that viral hepatitis cannot be treated in the hospital.

He said hepatitis is a serious public health issue that needs to be addressed. Against the backdrop of high prevalence, he advises that the population get vaccinated against hepatitis. He spoke to The Post’s Leocadia Bongben.

The Post: What is hepatitis?

Prof. Oudou Njoya: Hepatitis can be described as the inflammation of the liver. When we say inflammation, it means there should be a cause of that inflammation. When the cause is a virus, therefore, we talk of viral hepatitis. So, commonly, when people talk of hepatitis, they often refer to viral hepatitis.

How is hepatitis contracted?

There are many ways of contracting viral hepatitis. First of all, there are two big categories of hepatitis. Those that can be contracted through sex, blood and other biological liquids; hepatitis B, C, and D; and those that can be transmitted through food, Hepatitis A, E. Then, for hepatitis transmitted through sex, blood and biological liquids, there is also transmission from mother to child, during delivery.

How does hepatitis manifest itself in children?

Be it in children or in adults, hepatitis manifests itself in two ways. There are really no specific clinical signs for viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis can present malaria-like, flu-like and other cold-like symptoms. It means that it can resemble these diseases without being malaria, flu or cold. People are going to suffer from fever, joint pains, muscle pains and at times diarrhoea and vomiting when it is hepatitis A.

How can we then suspect hepatitis before going to the hospital?

It is true that it is rare for a patient to suspect hepatitis except in a situation where the person comes in contact with someone suffering from the disease, and after that the person starts showing signs. Most of the time, it is rare for a patient to come for hepatitis test. Nevertheless, you can have a situation where people become yellow, with yellow eyes and hands and skin, and then we talk of jaundice and that situation can push the patient to come to the hospital.

Then, how do we prevent viral hepatitis?

There are two ways: one is, vaccination or immunisation. There is vaccination for hepatitis A, B, and E, whereas hepatitis C does not have any vaccination for now. But, hygiene measures can be taken – not sharing cutting material and toilet with neighbours to avoid hepatitis.

What is the state of hepatitis in Cameroon?

The state of hepatitis in Cameroon is serious because we can say that the average prevalence for Hepatitis B is 10 per cent and the average prevalence for hepatitis C is 13 per cent.

That means hepatitis A, D and E added together is more than B and C in numbers?

Hepatitis B and C are those which we are afraid of. A and E are not harmful, whereas B, C and D can give way to what we call chronic hepatitis and later on to liver cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.

So many people are dying of hepatitis and I want to know why it is killing more than HIV/AIDS?

It is more important than HIV/AIDS, which is pegged at 5.5 percent, whereas hepatitis B is 10 percent. It means that it is two times more serious than HIV/AIDS. But, since it is a silent disease, people do not think about it and it can lead to complications for which there is no real treatment – cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.

Is there any research correlating HIV/AIDS and hepatitis?

Yes, it is possible because we can have what is called co-infections. It means that a person can have HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis at the same time; because they share the same route and are viruses, and are so rampant that one can have HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis. Concerning research, it is ongoing, maybe not really fast but progressively in Cameroon. But, at the international level, there is a lot of work done in other areas.

What we should do is emphasise and enhance research in our country, because there is a need to know the epidemiology- how it presents itself, the different sources of re-infection and the natural history of infection. I am honoured to lead a group of researchers working progressively on hepatitis at the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences and the Chantal Biya Foundation.

Do HIV/AIDS patients forcibly have hepatitis?

No, not forcibly, even though they are two different diseases that share the same route of transmission, that is why they can come together, but not forcibly, because one can have hepatitis and not have HIV/AIDS.

What is the advice for someone suffering from hepatitis?

The first thing to do for someone suspecting hepatitis is to go to the hospital. I emphasise on this because I hear so many things said that hepatitis is not treated in the hospital; that is not true. If you are suspecting hepatitis, go and consult a doctor who is going to guide and help you.

How much does it cost for an adult to get vaccinated against hepatitis?

It is not really expensive, at FCFA 5,500 you can get one injection and you have to take one per month for three months and a booster one year after.

Any vaccination for children?

They have their vaccine six weeks after birth, free of charge since 2005.

For how long does it protect the children?

For long, it is really accurate, it means that it can protect for 10 years or for life without one having hepatitis, but, it is always advisable to go for control to see if there is need for a booster or not.

Is the population advised to go for screening to see if they have hepatitis?

Yes, I will advise the population to go for screening after they get vaccinated if there is an indication.

First published in The Post print edition no 01454

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