The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, says Nigeria is working to reduce chronic Hepatitis B virus (HBV) to less than two per cent in children under five years by the end of 2020.
Ehanire spoke on Tuesday at the World Health Organization (WHO) virtual high-level commemoration of World Hepatitis Day and launch of the guidelines for the prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of Hepatitis B.
World Hepatitis Day, observed on July 28 every year, aims to raise global awareness of hepatitis — a group of infectious diseases known as Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E — and encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
The minister said that Nigeria was working in alignment with the Regional Resolution to reduce the virus to less than two per cent in children through vaccination.
He said “one of the major challenges of Hepatitis B birth dose vaccination is the inadequate domestic contribution to finance vaccines and expand access to services.
“In recent times, the country has made progress in this area; we are committed to a three-billion-dollar Nigeria Strategy on Immunization and PHC Systems Strengthening (NSIPSS).
“This is our plan for transitioning to financial ownership of the immunization and primary healthcare system over a 10-year period, from 2018-2028.”
He added that the plan aimed to address inequities in the uptake of routine vaccines and improve coverage for HBV Birth Dose.
“In 2019, HBV birth dose coverage was 59 per cent. We hope to continue to increase coverage as we work toward elimination.
“It is important to note that Nigeria has not defaulted in its co-financing obligation of routine immunization implementation for the past three years.
“We have also worked on strengthening routine immunization through the establishment of National Emergency Routine Immunization Coordination Centre (NERICC) in 2017, and there have been several gains through the creation of this platform.
“For example, its heavy focus on supply chain management helped to improve the availability of vaccines at district and facility levels.
“We acknowledge the significant work that is required to address prevention of mother-to-child transmission of viral hepatitis,” he said.
According to him, Nigeria has a policy of screening pregnant women for HIV, syphilis and viral hepatitis.
He explained that the policy on Reproductive Health, Maternal, New-born, and Child Health (RMNCH) to screen all pregnant women for the diseases presented a great opportunity that could be strengthened to improve prevention of mother-to-child transmission of viral hepatitis.
He noted that “I must acknowledge the need to continue to build capacities of healthcare providers and expand social mobilization efforts, especially during this pandemic; Together, we can achieve a Hepatitis Free Future.”
Ehanire, who expressed delight to be part of the commemoration of the World Hepatitis Day, happening virtually in 2020 because of the circumstances imposed by COVID-19, said it was indeed unique in many ways as the pandemic had its challenges and opportunities.
He said “the year also ushers in the decade of elimination of public health diseases, including viral hepatitis.
“Nigeria is endemic for both viral hepatitis B and C.
“In 2018, Nigeria conducted a National AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey which showed a prevalence of 8.1 per cent for Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and 1.1 per cent for Hepatitis C (HCV).
“We can estimate that about 20 million people are chronically infected.
“We recognize the importance of vaccination as a critical intervention in our determination to eliminate HBV infection by 2030,’’ he said.
The minister, therefore, said Nigeria was one of the first African countries to introduce a birth dose of HBV vaccine in 2004.
“Furthermore, we established the National Viral Hepatitis Control programme in 2013 to coordinate all efforts and through this, we developed national documents, including policies, strategic plan, guidelines, training materials and treatment centre directory, which are in use today.
“An important next step is establishing a routine surveillance system to improve on our reporting on the Global Hepatitis Surveillance Systems (GHSS) platform,’’ he said.