Uganda: Minister Cautions On Hepatitis B Screening

The State minister for Health in-charge of general duties, Ms Sarah Opendi, has cautioned organisations carrying out medical camps against screening for hepatitis B without providing vaccination, urging that this may cause complacency about the disease and lead to loss of lives.

Ms Opendi said: “I am cautioning you, you should not do screening when there are no vaccines. You may screen an individual and find that they have no hepatitis, but they may get it even before they leave the screening point, in the evening or tomorrow.

“What would you have done to the individual, it’s useless, you must screen when there are vaccines, it’s not about knowing whether you are positive or not like in HIV scenarios,” Ms Opendi said.

She was speaking at the launch of the Rotary Family Health Week at Ruhaama Health Centre III on Saturday.

During the Rotary Family Health Week, rotary members hold medical camps in various parts of the country to identify and treat common infections in communities.

Medical camp activities kicked off on Monday and will end on Sunday in all areas with Rotary clubs.

Ms Opendi said the infection levels of hepatitis B are increasing day by day and no one should take chances if proper prevention and treatment is to be achieved.

She hailed non-governmental organisations for their support rendered to government towards health service delivery.

“Fifteen years ago, only 47 per cent of Ugandans were getting services from government facilities, today we have moved on and at least 86 per cent are now getting services from government facilities. And because of this life expectancy has improved,” she said.

The Rotary district governor, Mr Francis Xavier Ssentamu, said the Rotary society organises medical camps to complement government services.

Ntungamo Woman MP Beatrice Rwakimari said medical camps are very important to rural communities because they are vulnerable to diseases that are not always detected in most of the rural health facilities.

More than 500 people were diagnosed and treated for various illnesses including hepatitis B and HIV/Aids as well as teeth, throat, nose and ear infections.

Last year, a 17-year-old Christine Birungi was sent home from school after she tested positive for Hepatitis B. The school administration required that she returns home to seek treatment.

Birungi’s elder sister Brenda Nyamaizi said the test results caused panic among family members, who believed the disease was incurable and Birungi would die.

Others accused Birungi of engaging in premarital sex since they believed she had contracted the disease through unprotected sex.

Ms Nyamaizi said she immediately had to part with Shs240,000 for Birungi to conduct other tests recommended by the medical doctor.

Earlier warning

The Ministry of Health in June cautioned doctors to take all necessary tests before administering treatment to suspected patients of hepatitis B.

During the fundraising dinner for Africa Hepatitis Summit in Kampala in June, the Ministry of Health permanent secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, said not everyone who tests positive needs treatment.

“If you test and find out the person is positive, don’t rush to administer the medicine. Sometimes hepatitis particles found in the blood sample need to be re-examined. Some of the people might have particles of the virus in their body when they actually defeated the virus,” Dr Atwine said.

Hepatitis B disease

According to the World Health Organisation, viral hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver caused by a viral infection which attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic disease.

It is a major global health problem. It is estimated that about 780,000 people die each year due to effects of hepatitis B such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.