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MOH to Introduce Hepatitis C Testing Amid Low Uptake for Hepatitis B Vaccination

Dr. Rachel Beyagira, a Technical Officer on Hepatitis told journalists on Thursday that they are considering starting testing and treating people who are found positive for the disease with data from blood banks showing increasing trends.

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The Ministry of Health is set to introduce routine screening for people at the highest risk of contracting Hepatitis C and spreading it. 

Dr. Rachel Beyagira, a Technical Officer on Hepatitis told journalists on Thursday that they are considering starting testing and treating people who are found positive for the disease with data from blood banks showing increasing trends.

She said the cases are obtained when testing samples from blood donors since banks are required to test for all diseases that could be spread through blood including HIV, syphilis, and Hepatitis B. 

//Cue in: “Hepatitis C we are… Cue out: “…Screen for HIV”.  

Mbale Regional Blood Bank has had the highest number of positive Hepatitis C clients accounting for 6.5% of all the blood collected, followed by Gulu and Mbarara blood banks with 5% and 3% of the blood collected respectively.  Fort Portal and Kitovu Masaka blood banks record the list percentages at 2% and 1%.

Beyagira says they are introducing testing among pregnant women, those living with conditions such as sickle cell anemia that require constant transfusion, prisoners and health workers among other at-risk populations, and will link those that test positive to treatment since there’s no vaccine yet for the virus that causes scarring of the liver, liver failure, and liver cancer. 

//Cue in: “It must be … Cue out: “…protect the baby”. //  

However, even as they are planning this, the Ministry of Health is still grappling with the high prevalence of Hepatitis B and yet they can be vaccinated against it.

Hepatitis B like Hepatitis C causes severe liver damage and death but Beyagira says Ugandans have not yet appreciated this risk and continue not to turn up for free vaccination.  Even when a mass campaign for testing and vaccination was initiated by the government more than five years ago, only about seven million people have been accessed of the 17million that they targeted to reach by 2020.

Currently, Beyagira says the Ministry has taken vaccination to the Western Uganda region but still uptake is low just as was in districts of Eastern and Northern Uganda where they started from.

No district hit the vaccination target for the jab given in three doses with overall coverage nationwide now standing at 30.6%.

  //Cue in:” The biggest issue… Cue out: “…Have this disease”. //  

As a result of this slow progress, the Ministry of Health is also re-strategizing from targeting masses through campaigns to having a few most at-risk people tested for both hepatitis C and B, then vaccinate those that test negative for B which has an available vaccine which often expires in the stores, as Beyagira explains. 

//Cue in:” The vaccine that... Cue out: "....To be negative”. //          

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