Vientiane, 28 July 2016
The recent viral Hepatitis A outbreak in Xiengkhouang Province is a reminder that Hepatitis can affect anyone of us. A spike in cases of this sickness happened just two weeks before the annual World Hepatitis Day is marked on 28 July.
Photo: UN Lao PDR / Jim Buy Lao
Dr. Juliet Fleischl, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to Lao PDR visited the province with the Health Minister, Dr. Bounkong Syhavong. Dr. Fleischl said that “Hepatitis A is a common mild disease, frequently seen in Lao PDR and neighbouring countries. Children under ten may have some symptoms, however without the common yellowing of the eyes and skin, also known as jaundice.”
Worldwide about 400 million people are affected by Hepatitis, and an estimated 95 percent of people who have fallen ill do not know that they have been infected with this virus. There are five different Hepatitis viruses: Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Viral Hepatitis kills more than 1.4 million people every year.
Hepatitis A and E are transmitted directly from person to person and through consumption of food and water contaminated by infectious people. Hepatitis E can also be transmitted by eating undercooked or raw pork products. Infections are mild and usually only last a few days, although full recovery can take several weeks. Hepatitis A and E viruses are present in the faeces of infected people.
Observing proper hygiene and sanitation practices such as washing hands with soap and water after using the toilet, when preparing food for others and before eating and drinking will help to prevent the spreading of the infection. Washing fruit and vegetables in clean water and proper building and cooking also helps preventing the virus from spreading. People who are infected should not prepare food for others. Avoid eating raw meat and shellfish, drink safe and boiled water and do not share glasses, forks, spoons or chopsticks.
On the other hand, Hepatitis B and C occur as a result of contact with infected body fluids, usually blood. Hepatitis B and C viruses can cause long-term infection, often leading to life-threatening complications like cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. An effective vaccine and treatment exists for Hepatitis B, and Laos is committed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of this virus through vaccination. All newborn babies should be vaccinated against Hepatitis B within 24 hours of birth, followed by at least 2 more doses under the routine immunisation program.
To prevent Hepatitis C transmission, hospitals have to enforce infection prevention and control practices by ensuring safe injection practices and eliminating unnecessary and unsafe injections. Globally, the most common cause of Hepatitis C is sharing drug injecting equipment.
The good news is that Hepatitis is preventable and treatable. The World Health Assembly in May 2016 has adopted the first-ever elimination strategy for Viral Hepatitis. 2016 is seen as the pivotal year for Viral Hepatitis, and the global theme for this year’s campaign is elimination.
For Hepatitis-endemic countries in Asia, this is an uphill struggle. To support these countries, WHO calls on policy makers, local authorities, development partners, civil society, media and the general public to raise awareness on Hepatitis and act now.
Everyone can begin by protecting themselves and their family members, with simple steps to change everyday practices. The community needs to practise good hygiene by washing their hands regularly with soap and water after using the toilet and before preparing food, as this can prevent many diseases.
WHO will support countries to implement the global Hepatitis goals under the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030 by focusing on raising awareness, promoting partnerships and mobilising resources, with an emphasis on increased public understanding of Viral Hepatitis. In Laos, Hepatitis and Acute Jaundice Syndrome is being monitored by the National Surveillance System which also informs other countries of an outbreak.
Long-term political support and multi-sectoral collaboration from development partners, local authorities, civil society and communities is needed to achieve the goal of eliminating Hepatitis, as this effort extends well beyond the scope of the Ministry of Health of the Lao PDR.