For any community that rely on the mass media to tell them what matters most, any issue that is not in the news probably does not exist. And if that issue happens to be Hepatitis B-a highly infectious viral disease that affects about 350million people globally and 19million Nigerians, then there’s a huge problem.
InNigeria, Hepatitis B is a serious public health concern. But it is hardly ever in the news not withstanding that one out of every eighth person in the region is a carrier of the Hepatitis B virus which can lead to liver cancer and other forms of liver damage if not detected early and treated.
Ahead of the World Hepatitis Day scheduled( July 28), The Society for Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Nigeria (SOGHIN) in collaboration with Health Communication and Development Initiative (HCDI) and the World Hepatitis Alliance held a skills-building session and round table in Lagos for journalists on the disease.
With the theme Telling the Hepatitis Story: One Test, One Shot, One Hope ,the skills building session had two main objectives one of which is to enhance the capacity of journalists in Nigeria to contribute towards effective Hepatitis response through accurate, sustained and broad-based reporting of Hepatitis disease.
“We need a platform for journalists and physicians treating hepatitis to share concerns and synergise competencies that would help improve the quality of Hepatitis response inNigeriaand I think nothing can be more auspicious than this”, says Kingsley Obom-Egbulem, Creative Director, Health Communication and Development Initiative (HCDI).
“I am hoping that we would be able to promote a common understanding of the issues in Hepatitis management and examine how journalists can report these issues from an informed perspective and be able to sustainably articulate them as they affect Hepatitis control in Nigeria”, he added.
Obom-Egbulem, who is also Managing Editor, Nigerian Health Journal said the skills building session is also aimed at examining the role media advocacy could play in improving access to testing, treatment and vaccination as well as reducing Hepatitis related mortality.
“One of the ironies of living in developing climes like ours is that every disease is made to look like a terminal disease; people actually die not because the disease is indeed terminal but because they found themselves living in place where health priorities are misplaced and that swells the number of needless deaths and that is why we need to tell the Hepatitis story”, he says.
Obom-Egbulem said the choice of title for the roundtable was informed by an understanding that there is an effective way to make an issue known and that way is to tell it as a story.
“The Hepatitis story is indeed an untold story”, says Obom-Egbulem. “It is the story of a virus that affects about 20 million Nigerians and fewer than 5% of this population actually know what it is all about”, he added.
Explaining how important the role of the media is in raising the level awareness about Hepatitis, Obom-Egbulem said that, news is not what happened or what people say it is. “News is what the journalist says it is; if Hepatitis not news to the journalists or his editor, then it cannot be news and you cannot talk about creating awareness about Hepatitis without those who determine what news is.”
With the stage set it was time to expose journalists to issues underlying Hepatitis such as Epidemiology of Hepatitis inNigeria, The Science of Hepatitis Prevention, Clinic Matters: issues of adherence, drug resistance, availability and access to treatment, periodic monitoring of vital signs, duration of treatment, cost, treatment failure and drug sensitivity / interaction, managing Hepatitis co-infections, etc.
“Hepatitis is a Latin word referring to the liver. It is an inflammation of the liver caused by viruses, bacteria, drugs and other toxins”, says Dr. Hameed Oladipuo, consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist and
“Hepatitis B and C are the most popular of the Hepatitis viruses in Sub-Saharan Africa and it is an infection which can lead to a terminal disease if not detected and treated early”, says Hameed who is also member of the Society of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Nigeria (SOGHIN).
He added that Hepatitis B is caused by infection with Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) in childhood which the body fails to clear and this result in chronic illness that lasts more than six months and in some cases for life. At this stage, “Chronic Hepatitis B can result in cirrhosis (which is the hardening of the liver), liver cancer, liver failure and ultimately death even though it can be treated when detected before the symptoms show up”.
Another resource person at the programme, Dr. Olufunmilayo Lesi, Consultant physician and Gastroenterologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) also provided vital information about the disease which she says has been relegated on the priority list of public health concerns.
“Hepatitis B is highly contagious and is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV and the average infection inNigeriais 13percent. It means that one out of every eight Nigerian is living with the virus”. The entire hall became silent when she revealed further that according to a survey, 20 percent of children are carriers of Hepatitis B virus.
“This is because the disease can also be spread through child-to-child transmission and mother-to-child transmission; and you wonder why no one is making an issue out of it and we are all talking about HIV/AIDS, when there is a more serious epidemic on our hand”.
Lesi added that there testing early for Hepatitis B and getting vaccinated remains a better way to responds to the epidemic and these are priorities that government must promote.
“There is a vaccine for Hepatitis B and its been available for about 40 years now; why are we not making it a priority to ensure mass screening and mass vaccination of people who have not been infected with the virus? Why are we still having cases of liver cancer and liver cirrhosis due to chronic Hepatitis B in the midst of available and effective treatment and vaccination?”,she wondered.
“I strongly believe the search for solutions to Dr. Lesi’s puzzle begins with putting Hepatitis B in the news and keeping it there; it is more than an issue for Word Hepatitis Day coverage alone”, argued Obom-Egbulem.
Continuing, Obom-Egbulem said that someone must take responsibility for opening up the space for Nigerians to talk about Hepatitis B and avoid complications such as liver cancer and liver cirrhosis. “If you see any working well there is always someone working it; someone must see it as a personal responsibility to inform Nigerians and help the media cover this epidemic, and that person is called you and me. Nigerians need not die of Hepatitis B if they know about it”, he added.
Adapted from : NIGERIAN HEALTH JOURNAL