The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects people all over the world but Africa is a special case. The virus causes a chronic liver disease and is among the leading factors of liver problems in the world. The statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveal that an estimated one hundred and seventy million people in the entire world are infected with around four million reported new infections every year.
Why is Africa special as far as Hepatitis C is concerned
In Africa alone the figures are at an astonishing thirty-two million infections making it the highest reported data in the world. With these statistics, HCV remains highly prevalent and infectious in nature with the virus infection remaining under-reported and under-diagnosed in Africa apart from a few countries like Egypt who have reliable data.
Prevalence of Hepatitis C in Africa
An estimated prevalence in Africa is at 5.3% with Egypt having a prevalence of 17.5%. Egypt has one of the highest reported prevalences. This is a result of Egypt's government not agreeing to use a somewhat expensive diagnostic tests to determine if donor blood is infected with HCV. In the US, for example, these kinds of tests have been around from 1992 and are vital for limiting the spread of the disease.
The prevalence of the HCV appears to increase with age as the highest reported cases are those people who are aged forty years and above.
As you see in the photo on your right, the majority of African countries have troubles coming up with a tangible figure as far as HIV prevalence rates are concerned. Getting these information for HPV are even more elusive.
Problem of not testing donor blood for HPV
HCV is transmitted by various methods such as blood and blood products, organs and tissues, unsafe medical procedures, intravenous drug injection, sexual intercourse, through body piercings and vertical transmission i.e. mother infecting a fetus. A problematic method of transmission is by blood donation.
There are analytical tests that can detect the HPV in donor blood. However, in Africa, only a small percentage (about a fifth of all blood sampled) is tested for the HCV. This is due to the costs involved in laboratory testing.
Spread of HPV in Africa
The populations that are at most risk are those who intravenously inject themselves with drugs, HIV/AIDS patients who are undergoing the hemodialysis procedure, organ transplantation and blood transfusion patients and surprisingly even the medical staff themselves can be infected if they acquire injuries caused by used needles. Other groups of people at risk include sexually active adults with several partners and children who are born to infected mothers. Also, the data available on HCV disclose that patients with the chronic liver disease tend to have a high prevalence.
In Africa, many of way of Hepatitis C transmission are not controlled. Not testing donor blood is just a tip of the iceberg; the unprotected sex due to lack of condoms and so on are only increasing the chances of HPV spreading.
HIV/AIDS has a higher prevalence in Africa as well making a pathway for HPV to spread. On the other hand, the lack of needles and systemic check of drug use is sprouting more and more cases of HPV via needle injections.
What is being done to prevent HPV spread in Africa?
The primary prevention strategies of the HCV include testing and proper testing of blood, plasma, tissue, semen and organ donors. The virus can also be inactivated by-products derived from blood plasma. However, the strategies that work in the developed world are very rarely used in Africa.
HCV awareness campaigns and counselling services that reduce the risks to exposure and infection control practices should also be implemented in Africa. Hopefully with so much funds being generated by the big corporations who sell Hepatitis C medicines, at least some part will go to helping less fortunate.
Gilead Sciences has partly done that by giving licenses to produce generic version of Sovaldi and Harvoni but in Africa stopping the spread is the real issue.
The spread of HPV is a vicious circle. Luckily the spread is not as quick as in other viruses (especially those who spread by inhalation) but the number are steadily rising despite us having the cure for Hepatitis C. Africa should be calling for a systematic solution but as in many other cases, doing something systematic and long-lasting in Africa is very far fetched.