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‘Untreated hepatitis can lead to liver cancer’



‘Untreated hepatitis can lead to liver cancer’

About 20 million Nigerians are infected with hepatitis, according to the Society for Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Nigeria (SOGHIN). Recently, World Health Orgnanisation (WHO) sets 2030 as target for global elimination of the condition. In this interview with APPOLONIA ADEYEMI, Dr. Ramon Moronkola, a physician in private practice, says routine hepatitis screening, ensuring immunisation in negative cases, avoiding excess consumption of alcohol and some herbal concoctions are among measures that can prevent hepatitis


What is hepatitis and what danger does it pose to humans?
Hepatitis is a disease of the liver or what is called the inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis. One of the causes is the reason we have been promoting awareness on hepatitis B.
There are several causes of this medical condition. Some of the hepatitis that is specific to the liver are highly preventable.

There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These five types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread.
Scientists have identified these five unique hepatitis viruses.. While all identified by the letters A, B, C, D, and E cause liver disease, they vary in important ways.

What is the risk of developing hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B virus can affect almost every organ of the body, particularly the liver. It can cause the liver to fail over time. Secondly, it can cause liver cancer either directly or over time, after damaging the liver and converting liver damage to liver cancer. Those are the major things that are scary about hepatitis B.

How has medical experts been canvassing for prevention?
One of the ways is to advocate for awareness and use of hepatitis B vaccines. Even adults, too are encouraged to find out about their hepatitis B status. If they are negative they are encouraged to get the vaccination and if they are vaccinated it protects them from the virus.
Even for those who are positive there are tests they do to protect the liver and one of the things to do is to visit the hospital to see, especially doctors that are trained in that regard; they are called gastroenterologists.
Even before doing that there are actions that we do that further weakens the liver; that is to say that those actions can worsen the condition of one that has hepatitis B. For example, excessive consumption of alcohol is one of the things that can damage the liver.
There are some herbs that damage the liver as well. There is a particular mushroom that can damage the liver directly. There are some kind of mushrooms that have poisonous substances.
Consequently, if someone has hepatitis B, he has to now take extra care to run away from those things that can damage the liver. However, the best thing to do is to go to the hospital to see medical doctors that specialised in that care.

When some people have been informed that they are infected with hepatitis B, they ignore it and don’t border to treat it. What could be the impact of this?
The risk of ignoring hepatitis B is that over time, it can damage the liver and liver is an organ that is difficult to repair. For instance when people have kidney problem it is easy to get kidney transplant; if there is significant damage to the liver, it is difficult to replace. Ignoring hepatitis B means that you are encouraging continuous damage to your liver and one of the most dangerous part of this is that hepatitis B can cause liver cancer.
When liver cancer sets in, the survival rate is six months only; it’s that deadly and I would say again that hepatitis B is more deadly than HIV because of its infectious nature. If hepatitis B virus is on the surface, it can last on that surface for months, whereas if HIV is on the surface, within hours and days it will die off. That means it cannot infect someone again.
On its part, if hepatitis B virus is on the surface, anyone that has an open wound will contract it and it can easily lead to liver cancer.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have set 2030 target for the elimination for the ending hepatitis globlally. Can Nigeria meet this target?
Yes, it’s a target that was set. It is doable and it can be met. We cannot say there are no machineries being put in place to meet that target. For example, I just mentioned that immunisation for children is one of the ways to eliminate hepatitis B; by ensuring adequate immunisation, hepatitis can be prevented. In addition, you will also agree with me that awareness about hepatitis is increasing in this country. Recently, the Federal Government initiated a survey to find out the prevalence of hepatitis B in the country. With this initiative, we think that the government is moving in the same direction. I will say it is achievable.

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