Fifty-eight (58) students of the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine of the University of Liberia were grateful to a team from the Liberia National Hepatitis Foundation (LNHF) that visited the campus in Oldest Congo Town to vaccinate them free of charge against the killer disease, Hepatitis B, last Friday.
The vaccines were donated by Dr. Ahmad Jo, a cardiologist (heart doctor) at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Sinkor. The LNHF said they are grateful to be able to make the donation as it enables them to see their wish come true by moving one step closer to making Liberia Hepatitis free.
All of the students who took the vaccines are expected to take the second dose on the same day a month after their first inoculation.
According to Ms. Layal Kazouh, founder of the LNHF and a Master’s degree holder in Epidemiology, the medical students will be required to complete their lifetime Hepatitis B inoculation within seven months. Only three doses are required for one’s lifetime dosage.
Speaking with our Health Desk, Epidemiologist Kazouh said the Foundation targeted the medical students because “They are on the frontlines. They need to be fully armed in order to be able to treat our sick population in the country.”
Discussing the dangers of Hepatitis, especially Type B, in an earlier exclusive interview with this newspaper, Ms. Kazouh said the LNHF is focused on it because it is endemic in Liberia. She said the disease presents symptoms similar to malaria or typhoid; therefore, it could be mistaken for either if a patient neglects to do a clinical laboratory test.
The LNHF founder advised against self-medication and buying over-the-counter medicine, because it may lead to accelerated liver damage.
On Monday, June 5, before she and her team arrived on the main campus of the University of Liberia Medical School to administer the vaccines, she interacted with the students, during which she shared some knowledge of the virus with them and promised them that her organization would return on Friday, June 9, to administer the vaccines, which will protect them against the virus.
She told them that 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 the 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 a person who is not protected by the vaccine.
According to Kazouh, 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.
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 healthcare settings or among persons who inject drugs. Also, the infection can occur during medical, surgical and dental procedures, through tattooing, dirty toilets and bath places, toothbrushes or the use of razors and similar objects contaminated with infected blood, as well as untested donated blood for transfusion.
Ms. Kazouh told both Pre-Clinical and Clinical students of the five-year Medical Program that she conceived the idea of the Foundation in 2014 while writing her Public Health (MPH) dissertation on Hepatitis B. She was particularly touched by the death of her half-sister in 2011 due to liver cirrhosis caused by Hepatitis B. She warned that the Hepatitis B virus could cause a chronic liver infection that can later develop into liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Due to the lack of adequate information on Hepatitis B, 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.
Speaking to our Health Desk on the day the vaccine was administered, the Liberia Medical Students Association president, Mr. John S. Yarngrorble, expressed their gratitude to the Foundation for providing a means for them to be protected against one of the killer diseases.
Qualifying their appreciation, Mr. Yarngrorble stated that a dose of the vaccine costs US$20 (L$2300 at prevailing exchange rate of L$115 to US$1), multiplying this amount by three would be US$60 (L$6,900), which is a substantial amount for any ordinary Liberian in these hard economy times.
However, some students in the Clinical Division were heard complaining that since they are exposed daily due to contact with patients at the various hospitals, they should be among the first ones getting vaccinated.
Unfortunately, the Medical Students Association president said his colleagues, whose names were forwarded to the Foundation for inoculation, are those who were present at several called meetings to announce that a team from the LNHF was coming to administer the vaccines to them.
After the process, Ms. Kazouh, who herself was the first to take the vaccine, handed out the Foundation’s T-shirts to the students. The LNHF can be contacted at [email protected]