NATIONAL NEWS - The South African Medical Association (SAMA) has joined the World Health Organisation (WHO) in encouraging awareness, testing and treatment for viral hepatitis, where needed.
The call came ahead of World Hepatitis Day, which is observed annually on 28 July.
The day brings the world together under a single theme to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and to influence real change.
This year’s World Hepatitis Day was observed under the theme "Test. Treat. Hepatitis".
According to WHO, viral hepatitis B and C are major health challenges, affecting 325 million people globally. They are root causes of liver cancer and cirrhosis, leading to 1.34 million deaths annually.
SAMA chairman, Dr Mzukisi Grootboom said hepatitis B and C are serious public health threats, especially in a country such as South Africa with an already high HIV burden and prevalence.
“To ensure the global aim for the elimination of viral hepatitis, we urge all South Africans to get tested for hepatitis, where needed to get treated and in some instances to cure viral hepatitis,” Dr Grootboom said.
He also warned that hepatitis B and C are chronic viral infections that may not show symptoms for a long period, with people silently infected for years or decades.
“At least 60% of liver cancer cases are due to late testing and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C. Low coverage of testing and treatment is the most important gap to be addressed to achieve the global elimination goals by 2030. Government should now implement its planned national viral hepatitis elimination strategy for South Africa,” Dr Grootboom said.
Grootboom emphasised that through this important health day, it is vital that doctors support initiatives which aim to increase the prevention, testing and treatment of viral hepatitis.
“It is equally important that citizens play their role in effectively curbing this disease by getting tested and, if necessary, treated. Timely testing and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C can save lives,” he said.
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