Students of BlueCrest University College in Oldest Congo Town were ecstatic last Friday when members of the Liberia National Hepatitis Foundation (LNHF) took time off to disseminate awareness of the disease to them and some of their professors.
Presenting the dangers of Hepatitis, especially Type B, Ms. Layal Kazouh said the LNHF is focused on it because it is endemic in Liberia. Ms. Kazouh said the disease presents symptoms like those of malaria or typhoid; therefore, it could be mistaken for either of them if a patient neglects doing clinical laboratory test.
Ms. Kazouh, founder of the LNHF, who has a Master’s in Epidemiology, advised against self-medication and buying over-the-counter medicine because it may lead to accelerated liver damage.
She said she established the Foundation to bring awareness and education to the population about the effects of Hepatitis and how to avoid contracting it.
“Some people may experience symptoms of the illness that could last several weeks, including yellowing of the skin and eyes, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, joint pains, persistent headache, neck pain as well as abdominal pain,” Ms. Kazouh explained. She disclosed that jaundice (locally referred to as Yellow Janda) is a derivative of Hepatitis.
Explaining further, Ms. Kazouh said Hepatitis B virus could survive outside the body for up to a week and during that time the virus can still cause an infection if it enters the body of a person who is not protected by vaccine.
The incubation period of the virus is 75 days on average but can vary from 30 to 180 days. The virus may be detected within 30 to 60 days after infection and can persist and develop into chronic Hepatitis B.
Type B is most commonly spread from mother to child at birth (vertical transmission), or through horizontal transmission (exposure to infected blood), especially from an infected child to an uninfected child during the first five years of life. The development of chronic infection is very common in infants infected from their mothers, or by other means before the age of 5.
She urged parents not to neglect taking their children for vaccination.
Hepatitis B is spread through exposure to infected blood and various bodily fluids, such as saliva, sweat and menstrual, vaginal, and seminal fluids. Sexual transmission of Hepatitis B may occur, particularly in unvaccinated men who have sex with men and heterosexual persons with multiple sex partners or through contact with sex workers.
Transmission of the virus may also occur through the reuse of needles and syringes either in health-care settings or among persons who inject drugs. Also, the infection can occur during medical, surgical and dental procedures, through tattooing, unclean toilets and bath places, toothbrushes or through the use of razors and similar objects contaminated with infected blood, as well as untested donated blood for transfusion.
Ms. Kazouh conceived the idea of forming the Foundation in 2014 while writing her Public Health (MPH) dissertation on Hepatitis B following the death of her half-sister in 2011 due to liver cirrhosis caused by the disease. She warned that the Hepatitis B virus could cause chronic liver infection that can later develop into liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
“Unfortunately, there is little or no awareness of the disease in Liberia,” she said, and explained to her audience that when she searched for data in hospitals and at the Ministry of Health, there was no substantial information on the disease to write a graduate degree thesis.
She said she became very concerned, especially when she began to talk to people about Hepatitis B, and realized that the level of awareness among the people was almost non-existent. It became apparent to her that she must do something about it, which led her to establish the Foundation and doing all she can to spread awareness of the disease.
Her Foundation has visited several learning institutions, including the United Methodist-owned J. J. Roberts High School on 12th Street in Sinkor and the Monrovia Christian Fellowship Church.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of Hepatitis B is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, including Liberia, where between 5 to 10 percent of the adult population is chronically infected.
Mrs. Ruth Ibrahim, a member of the Foundation’s outreach team, urged the students to take the message of the disease back to their communities.
“As you have heard this today, you need to be good ambassadors and take the message back to your communities so that others get informed, too,” Mrs. Ibrahim stated.
Dr. Gajendra Singh, Country Manager, BlueCrest University College Liberia, thanked LNHF for making his students a part of those targeted to receive awareness on the dangers the disease poses to them and their families.
“As an IT [Information Technology] institution, we will work along with you to further spread the message about this disease,” Dr. Singh added.
The students received from LNHF flyers and T-shirts with vital information on the disease. The LNHF can be contacted at [email protected]