Posted on July 26, 2016

Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is continuing to raise awareness about preventing viral hepatitis, which is vital to achieving the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global strategy of eliminating the disease by 2030. Every year on 28 July, HMC joins the world to observe World Hepatitis Day, raising awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and highlighting the importance of measures to prevent spread of the disease.

In addition, HMC ensures all awareness activities addressing viral hepatitis are a step towards elimination, greater awareness, increased diagnosis and key interventions. Ongoing activities include vaccination, blood and injection safety, harm reduction and cutting-edge treatment. HMC’s Infectious Diseases Unit Senior Consultant, Dr. Hussam Al Soub (pictured), said HMC is already on the path toward eliminating viral hepatitis in Qatar. The Corporation has been implementing treatments for the disease with good results and there have been no recent major incidences of the disease in the country.

“Every child born in Qatar is vaccinated against hepatitis B as part of the government’s childhood immunization program. Vaccination at birth is the reason for the marked decline in the prevalence of hepatitis B in countries that have implemented this vaccine,” said Dr. Al SoubLast year the WHO launched the first global health sector strategy aimed at eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. The world health body says that the disease is an international public health challenge, comparable to other major communicable diseases, including human immuno-deficiency virus, tuberculosis and malaria. The WHO describes viral hepatitis as an inflammation of the liver caused by a viral infection which affects millions of people worldwide and causes close to 1.4 million deaths every year.

The WHO also states that the strategy addresses all five hepatitis viruses (hepatitis A, B, C, D and E), with a particular focus on hepatitis B and C, owing to the relative public health burden they represent. The strategy describes the health sector’s contribution towards eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat. It promotes synergies between viral hepatitis and other health issues, and aligns the hepatitis response with other global health and development strategies, plans and targets. Dr. Al Soub explained that viral hepatitis is caused by five main viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. “Viral hepatitis is considered a “silent killer”. An infected person may show limited or no symptoms. When there are symptoms, they include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain,” said Dr. Al Soub.

He explained that hepatitis A and E are typically transmitted through contaminated food or drinks. Hepatitis B and C can be contracted by needle sharing (when a syringe is shared by more than one person to inject intravenous drugs). “Hepatitis can also be caused by the transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, especially in places where blood is not tested properly; through a mother to her child during pregnancy; and by sexual contact,” he explained, adding that people with hepatitis B can also get infected with hepatitis D, resulting in more severe complications.

“If a person is infected with hepatitis A and E, the infection will most likely go away on its own and without ongoing liver disease. Hepatitis B and C, on the other hand, can become chronic and lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer,” said Dr. Al Soub, highlighting the importance of regular medical check-ups for the early detection of hepatitis. “Pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis, so that if they are infected, protective measures such as the hepatitis B vaccine and immunoglobulin can be given to the newborn baby. Otherwise, there is a 90 percent risk that the child will become infected.”

Dr. Al Soub advised people traveling to countries where viral hepatitis is prevalent to observe precautions such as getting vaccinated at the Mesaimeer Health Center. “The available vaccines are effective in protecting against viral hepatitis. Other ways to avoid the disease are to ensure proper hygiene and sanitation in living areas, safe drinking water and properly cooked food. It is also advised to avoid food from street vendors.”