Experts want pregnant mothers to undergo hepatitis B screening

HEALTH experts have recommended screening for hepatitis B to be among the diseases required for primary testing in antenatal health care to prevent mother-to-child transmission, especially during childbirth.

They recommended that at the weekend during a symposium held at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) and attended by medical health practitioners, ahead of World Hepatitis Day on July 28.

Presenting a topic on hepatitis B screening, a consultant gastroenterologist, Dr John Rwegasha, said although screening for the viral disease was being done in some health facilities it was high time for it to be among the primary testing for pregnant mothers.

Dr Rwegasha, who is also Head of Internal Medicines, said hepatitis B screening would help health experts take measures to protect the infants by treating mothers, who would be detected with the viral disease.

Dr Rwegasha noted that if expectant mothers underwent primary testing for HIV/Aids, syphilis and other diseases, it was high time for the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children to lay more emphasis on hepatitis B testing.

“Hepatitis B prevalence is common in the childhood stage because most of the children contract the viral disease at birth (perinatal infection),” he stressed.

He noted that perinatal infection was the major route of transmission of the viral disease to children. Dr Rwegasha said they were working on a programme, which if succeeded, would make screening of hepatitis B to expectant mothers mandatory.

“Earlier we had some challenges of screening this group because we had nowhere to take mothers, who tested positive, but now we are able to do so,” he said.

He added that the programme would also help them get hepatitis B vaccine for newborns, which would be administered at birth to children, whose parents would be detected with the disease.

Dr Rwegasha said the programme would also help health experts advise the government on how it could implement the programme countrywide.

He, however, noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had already recommended the newborns to be administered with hepatitis B dose at birth, especially those, who were at risk of contracting the disease through their mothers, who had been detected with the viral disease.

“Children will be given hepatitis B dose at birth and complete vaccine series by the age of 6-18 months,” Dr Rwegasha said.

He said according to national statistics hepatitis B infection in general population was 4.5 per cent, but according to WHO standards the country was still in the zone of high prevalence of the viral disease, which stood at 8 per cent in general population – that is in every 100 people 8 were infected with the disease.

For her part, MNH Director for Medical Services, Dr Hedwiga Swai, called upon health workers at the hospital, especially those at high risk of contracting the viral disease to go for screening and those found with the disease to start treatment, while those, who would be found negative to take preventive measures among them being to go for hepatitis B vaccination.

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