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Hepatitis B: Traditional herbal medicines are not an alternative for a cure

Being diagnosed with Hepatitis B is like a death sentence, says Anthony Holmes, a 30-year-old businessman.

Anthony had to leave his business when he fell seriously ill and was diagnosed initially with an autoimmune disease.

A few months passed and Anthony still did not feel well. One day, he decided to get tested during one of the free screening exercises normally organized on World Hepatitis Day, and the results turned out positive.

This was a big blow to Anthony, but with the support of his family members and friends, some contributions were made to his laboratory investigations to start the treatment process.

He did well with his treatments for the first six months. He was always seen at the Hospital every month and never missed his counseling session. He was doing great.

Unfortunately, he stopped his treatment after some time and started herbal treatment recommended to him by his parents who said it could help cure the infection.

One faithful day, Anthony run into his physician who asked him why he had not been coming to the clinic for his routine treatments and management.

He gave his Physician his reasons and he expressed disappointment in Anthony saying that his decision could result in terrible complications, but he said he was giving it a trial for some time.

After some months of being on the treatment, Anthony’s condition worsened, and he was admitted to the Hospital. His laboratory results were so bad with elevated liver enzymes. By that time, he looked so sick with swollen limbs and a distended abdomen.

Anthony’s life now hangs in the balance. His liver was failing. Several liver ultrasound tests conducted revealed that the state of his liver was terrible.

The story of Anthony is one of the many incidents of hepatitis patients resorting to herbal treatments. Anthony’s life hangs in balance now, but I am hopeful that his condition can be managed.

There are many people out there with similar cases but unfortunately couldn’t live to tell their stories.

Hepatitis B, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic diseases.

When the infection lasts for more than six months, it can develop into chronic Hepatitis B, which can lead to chronic inflammation of the liver, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, and/or liver failure.

The virus is spread through contact with the body fluids of an infected person, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva.

Symptoms of the disease include abdominal pain, dark urine, fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weakness, fatigue, yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

A vaccine can prevent Hepatitis B, but there’s no cure if one has the condition. Infected persons must take precautions that can help prevent spreading of the virus to others.

The five main viral classifications of hepatitis are hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. A different virus is responsible for each type of viral hepatitis.

A 2022 Report by the WHO indicates that nearly 296 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B, with an annual mortality of 820,000.

In Africa alone, about 60 million people are estimated to have hepatitis B viral (HBV) infection (WHO, 2020), and a higher proportion of these people reside in Central and Western Africa (WHO, 2017b).

In Ghana, 12.3 per cent of the population have hepatitis B, and three per cent of the people have Hepatitis C with 8.36 per cent of the condition having been recorded in the adult population, 14.3 per cent in adolescents, and 0.55 in Children five years.

Hepatitis B and C are the most common of the conditions and result in 1.1 million deaths and 3 million new infections per year.

Scientists are thus against the use of traditional herbal medicines because till now no scientific tests have proven the efficacy of these products, so, consumers must be mindful to protect the liver from any additional injury or harm.

Dr Atsu Godwin Seake-Kwaku, Programme Manager, National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme, GHS, says it is worrying that people resort to herbal treatment when effective treatment options were available for all in hospital care.

Research has shown that in recent times, effective antiviral agents against HBV such as Nucleos(t)ide analogs (NAs) are available.

These drugs are capable of suppressing HBV replication, preventing the progression of chronic Hepatitis B to cirrhosis, and reducing the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma and liver-related death.

Notwithstanding, hepatitis treatments are underused despite their effectiveness in managing Hepatitis B due to the cost.

Dr Seake-Kwaku reveales that Ghana has a high prevalence rate of eight per cent of hepatitis B and C, which means that the country is hyper-endemic being driven by mother-to-child transmission.

He says it is, therefore, crucial for the country to address this inter-generational transmission to be able to impact the prevalence to reduce the disease.

The Programme Manager called for a scale-up of Hepatitis B and C testing as the disease prevalence keeps increasing in the country.

He advised Ghanaians to take advantage of Hepatitis C-free treatment opportunities as medication for the disease was high-priced.

Checks at some Hospitals reveal that a 12-week course of treatment for hepatitis C is GHC 5,500, equivalent to $486.17 –quite expensive for the ordinary Ghanaian.

As part of the global response toward the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030, WHO has adopted a global strategy to reduce new HBV infections by 90 per cent and death by 65 per cent through immunization, prevention of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), blood and injection safety, harm reduction services, and increased testing and treatment.

In 2022, on World Hepatitis Day, the WHO reported a new outbreak of unexplained acute hepatitis infections affecting children. This new outbreak brings focus to thousands of acute viral hepatitis infections that occur among children, adolescents, and adults every year.

The WHO, thus, called for global efforts to prioritize the elimination of hepatitis infections B, C, and D infections.

Mr Alexander Kwamena Afenyo-Markin, Deputy Majority Leader, in his recent submission on the floor of Parliament and reported in the media appealed to the government to make testing, vaccination, and treatment of Hepatitis B accessible to rural communities.

He says it was equally important that Hepatitis B treatment be enrolled into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to make it affordable or even free as done for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

“HIV patients get the antiretroviral drugs free of charge. Unfortunately, Hepatitis B patients who also rely on this same medication have to buy it.

“If we do this, it will reduce morbidity and mortality in our country to the barest minimum with a strong focus on vulnerable groups within our rural areas,” the Deputy Minority Leader stated.

Dr Charles Ampong Adjei, the Executive Director, of Hepatitis Alliance Ghana (HAG), a non-governmental organization told the GNA that the issue of using herbal medicine for hepatitis was a huge challenge they are currently faced with.

He said the proliferation of herbal practitioners in the market was overwhelming, adding that their effectiveness is based on self professions of consumers of the products.

“But fortunately for patients in our network, they have been sensitized against herbal medicine use, and we have also gone a step further to create a space for them to access liver specialists via phone and Zoom,” the Executive Director said.

Dr Adjei, however, said this problem persisted in the country because primary healthcare had not been responsive to the needs of persons with Hepatitis B.

Patients are left with no option but to seek help from herbal practitioners, which unfortunately makes them report to the hospital late with damaged livers.

No herbal medicine has been certified as effective in treating hepatitis B or C in Ghana and cautioned the public against using any of such medicines in an attempt to cure hepatitis, he stated.

He said, despite the gains made as a country much is required to enable Ghana to achieve the 2030 target.

This report was made possible with technical support from the Centre for Science and Health Communication (CSHC), and funding from the National Research Foundation, South Africa.

Source: GNA

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