WHO supports fight against hepatitis E

Increasing knowledge, understanding and awareness among communities about the prevention and control of hepatitis E infection could curb the epidemic.

04 March 2019 | Health

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Otis Finck - The World Health Organisation (WHO) will provide assistance to community members of the DRC settlement in Swakopmund to combat the spread of the hepatitis E epidemic through risk communication, social mobilisation and community engagement interventions.

According to the organisation promotion of good hygiene practices, coupled with the enhancement of support to participate in outbreak response operations and enabling communities to take informed decisions to control the spread of hepatitis E infection, play a huge part in curbing the spread of the disease.

An outbreak was officially declared in December 2017 in Windhoek and subsequently spread to other parts of the country including the Erongo region.

A cumulative total of 3 885 people who reported to facilities with Acute Jaundice Syndrome (AJS) have been investigated, of which 540 are laboratory confirmed, 2 657 epi linked, 211 negative and 477 suspected as of 14 October 2018.

One hundred and forty eight of Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) cases confirmed and reported were maternal cases. A total of 31 deaths (case fatality rate 0.8%) occurred of which 14 (42%) were maternal deaths. Another 17 (54%) persons died due to chronic conditions including HIV/Aids, diabetes or underlying liver conditions.

According to the ministry of health and social services, cases of hepatitis E in the region are reported mainly from the DRC settlement.

Most cases from less affected towns in other regions also have a travel history to the DRC settlement in Swakopmund.

Poor water supply and sanitation conditions in the affected areas are highlighted as the root cause of the epidemic in a study.

A recent rapid assessment conducted in the area revealed a weak regional coordination platform, a lack of a regional response plan, and weak leadership of the health sector to mobilise other partners to adequately respond to the epidemic.

Inadequate involvement, engagement and understanding of the transmission and control of hepatitis E by communities in the affected areas are also listed as contributing factors.

Poor hygiene and hand washing practices within affected communities, inadequate hand washing facilities and the possibility of water being contaminated during transportation from public water points also exist.

Mobile latrines stationed in affected areas fill up quickly and are often not emptied on time, thereby posing a health risk to the population.

Against this background the WHO intends to support the municipality of Swakopmund in identifying and training community volunteers and engaging these volunteers for at least six months to conduct health education in the DRC settlement.

Under the initiative the health services department of the municipality will provide overall oversight for the project with additional support from a ministry of health and social services regional team.

The general manager of finance at the municipality of Swakopmund will receive and distribute money from the WHO which made budgetary provisions of N$265 230 to pay towards the allowance of 15 volunteers responsible for conducting a range of activities.

Volunteers will consist of local unemployed nurses to be screened and recommended by the district primary health care team.

They will complete daily reports on the number of households visited, number of persons met, sessions held, material distributed, water purification tablets distributed and report on blocked toilets, overflowing drainage and any hygiene related issues which require the municipality’s attention.

These individuals will also be used by the ministry of health and social services to collect hepatitis data and statistics since the start of the epidemic.

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