The New Publisher in total support for calls from the Deputy Majority Leader, Alexander Afenyo-Markin that the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) should bear the cost of testing and treating Hepatitis B cases in the country.
Afenyo-Markin backed this call with data and statistics from the Ministry of Health which said currently, between 3 million to 4.6 million people are said to be suffering from chronic Hepatitis B infection.
Meanwhile the infection has no symptoms at its early stages until it gets to an incurable and death inducing stage.
Most infection persons do not go for testing to know their status because of the financial cost involved and many who even know their status are unable to fund the anti-retroviral drugs with which they are treated.
Interestingly, the anti-retroviral drugs used for the treatment of Hepatitis B are given for free to HIV infected persons but sold to persons with Hepatitis.
Afenyo-Markin, in his statement, said the situation is such that estimates released by the Ghana Health Service in 2020 show that an average of 120,000 newborns will be exposed to the Hepatitis B virus by their mothers during delivery.
Also, up to 90% of Ghana’s newborns may end up being infected at some point. The reason is that infected pregnant women who are actively incubating the virus have a 90% chance of transmitting it to the newborn.
If one of us is not free, none of us is free. If between 3 million to 4.6 million people in Ghana are suffering from such a highly infectious disease, then we are in a clear danger with even a more scary danger that 90% of newborns are likely to get infected as well.
We cannot continue to pretend we have wished away and solved the scary challenge of Hepatitis B.
It is a major problem that requires a pragmatic solution and an urgent one for that matter.
Experts say that the most potent means of stopping mother-to-child transmission include the use of Hepatitis B Immunoglobulin (HBIG) and vaccination with a birth dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine.
However, as Afenyo-Markin, rightly puts it, the cost of the immunoglobulin intervention is beyond the economic power of the average pregnant woman in Ghana, meaning the risk that underprivileged but infected pregnant women will pass on the virus to their newborns is very high.
We add our voice to the call made by Afenyo-Markin and call on all well meaning Ghanaians to support him to lobby Parliament to ensure that Ghana takes a bold and urgent decision to make viral Hepatitis B prevention, vaccination, testing and treatment part of the package of services for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) programs.
In short, the NHIS should bear the cost of testing and treating Hepatitis B cases in the country. This approach, as aptly put by Afenyo-Markin, is vital because most citizens, particularly pregnant women in rural communities, do not get routine, reliable and affordable access to Hepatitis B testing facilities during pregnancy.