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Hepatitis B ravaging Teso amid low drugs

Teso sub-region. Treatment for the disease ranges between Shs35,000 and Shs50,000 for only drugs and viral load test at Shs180,000.

Treating diseases in relatively poverty-stricken Teso sub-region has been a challenge with more than 1,000 Hepatitis B patients failing to access medical attention.

Medics in Teso sub-region estimate that more than 1,000 people living with Hepatitis B in the sub-region can’t afford treatment and recommended drugs.

Teso sub-region. Treatment for the disease ranges between Shs35,000 and Shs50,000 for only drugs and viral load test at Shs180,000.

This is according to Elizabeth Emuku, a medical personnel at Bethesda Hospital in Soroti, a private run hospital undertaking outreach programmes for Hepatitis B in the
“We have had instances where those tested positive and enrolled on drugs take them for only one or two months. This increases chances of getting liver cirrhosis, a dangerous stage that is not reversible unless a liver transplant is done,” she says.

Adding to misery
The limited viral load testing centre, according to Emuka, is adding misery to an already dare situation where patients have to either travel long distances to Mbale or Kampala to seek treatment.
“During outreach progmames we have received several pleas requesting that we reduce vaccination prices but it is tricky because we cannot cut prices below the market value,” Emuku says.

Research, Emuku says has also shown that a number of pregnant mothers who miss antenatal care have high chances of passing on the virus to the newly born babies.

The risk stands at between 80 per cent and 85 per cent.

Some people, research shows are immune to Hepatitis B, especially if it is transmitted through sexual intercourse or sharp objects. However, such people are vulnerable to liver cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.

Like HIV, according to Emuku, Hepatitis B severely weakens the immune system and is potentially catastrophic.

Hepatitis B is treated with a number of drugs including Tenofivir and Lamivudine both of which were approved by World Health Organisation in 2008.

The disease is highly prevalent in north eastern Uganda with a prevalence rate of between 20 per cent and 30 per cent.

“When one tests positive, it is advisable they reduce on protein intake because it strains the liver,” Emuke says, adding that after undertaking viral load tests, patients should be put on specialised treatment depending on the results of the tests.

In Amuria, according to Raymond Malinga, the district health officer, prevalence rates stand at 10 per cent and efforts have been put in place to contain the disease.

However, the efforts have been impeded by ignorance in relation to transmission with many people not knowing that Hepatitis B is transmitted through sex, birth and sharing sharp objects.

“…people should take tests [for Hepatitis B] seriously as well as taking necessary precautions whatever the results might be,” Malinga says.
The death rates, he says are becoming rampant in rural communities due to low access to treatment and lack of free and affordable specialised drugs,” he says.

In Kumi District, John Opolot, the district health officer says more than 1,178 people who tested between July 2015 and March 2016 were positive.

Effective treatment, according to Opolot, has had challenges as many people start to seek medical attention when the disease is in its advanced stage.

Hepatitis B, Opolot says, has been more severe among HIV positive victims whose immune systems have already been weakened.

However, in Ngora District there have been gains with the prevalence rate reducing to 9 per cent due to a government-driven vaccination programme.

Spreading awareness
Emmanuel Eilu, the Ngora District health officers, say several attempts directed at awareness, especially in the area of transmission have been made targeting to vaccinate more than 75,000 people in Agu, Mukura, Kapir, Ajeluk and Ngora health centres.

In Katakwi District, according Simon Icumar, a number of people have been lost to Hepatitis B and there have been increasing prevalence rates oscillating between 10 and 11 per cent.

Hepatitis B affects the liver, presenting symptoms in the form of yellowish skin, tiredness, dark urine and abdominal pain.

In the Teso sub-region, Serere District has the lowest prevalence rate standing at 0.12 per cent, which, as Francis Odeke says has been a result of massive awareness.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 240 million people have chronic Hepatitis B with more than 780,000 dieing from the disease across the globe annually.

Expensive affair
Many people such as Joseph Ouma, 40, have been forced to sell off their properties as they look for money to treat the disease.
At the close of last year, Ouma’s wife, Grace Akello, tested positive for Hepatitis B resulting in a frantic search for money. The search ended with the sale of Ouma’s piece of land in Onyopai village in Katakwi Sub-county.

However, Akello died three weeks later and Ouma’s health has been worsening ever since.
The drugs, Ouma says, have turned out to be expensive yet doctors prescribed them for about six months.

Ouma has also been cheated of Shs1m by a man who had convinced him that he would test his viral load as well as provide required drugs and medication.

Ouma is currently admitted at Katakwi Health Centre IV but he is finding it hard to buy drugs after virtually selling ‘everything’.
He says general body weaknesses have kept him out of work and has not been able to farm for about three months now.

“These drugs, just like ARVs, should be distributed free of charge to ease the burden that comes with treatment,” Ouma says.


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