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RIA Scandal Secret Recordings
RIA Scandal Secret Recordings
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|A Killer on the Rise: FGM Blamed for Hepatitis B ‘Yellow Fever’ Deaths in Liberia||| Print ||
|Written by Al-Varney Rogers/0886304498/FPA Staff Writer|
|Wednesday, 05 December 2012 00:02|
Bopolu, Gbarpolu County - A woman lies on her hospital bed in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County, she is so sick that she is unable to talk to a visitor touring the medical facility in which she is admitted.
The woman believed to be in her late forties is among seven other women lying helpless in the same ward diagnosed with Hepatitis B or ‘Yellow Jaundice’ as it is known in Liberia.
The Head of the hospital, narrating the women’s condition to FrontPageAfrica said, as the number of people diagnosed with hepatitis B in the County there is an urgent need for a nation-wide vaccination campaign. Dr. Trokon Washington of Chief Jallah Lone Hospital in Bopolu said the rising numbers of hepatitis B infections pose a challenge.
“When I took over that was one of the things that I noticed most affecting the people in Gbarpolu,” said Dr. Washington.
FGM major cause
He said the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, also called female circumcision, is one of the major factors responsible for the spread of the virus.
“Sometimes instruments used during these cultural practices may not be clean,” he said.
The form of FGM or female genital cutting (FGC) practiced in Liberia is Type II (commonly referred to as excision). It was customarily practiced by most ethnic groups in Liberia prior to the outbreak of civil war in late 1989.
Exact figures are difficult to ascertain, but a significant portion of the female population has undergone Type II according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR).
“Some estimates are that, in rural areas, approximately 50 percent of the female population between the ages of eight and eighteen had undergone this procedure before the civil war began,” states UNCHR.
Liberia is one of nine African nations with no laws banning the procedure and the practice is prevalent in Gbarpolu County. Another common cause disease-transmission method is through the birth canal – by an infected mother who transmits the virus to the child said Dr. Washington.
More Hepatitis B than Polio
A U.S. National Institutes of Health study found that Liberian babies born to mothers with hepatitis B had "significantly higher" rates of the disease than babies from uninfected mothers.
The medical director asserted more people are hepatitis B than polio, which is getting so much attention. A national vaccination project should be part of a government plan to reduce the number of infections, said Washington.
“Myself, when I was a student practicing at John F. Kennedy Medical Center I was vaccinated against hepatitis B,” he recalled.
He said many of the patients come in with protruded bellies like pregnant women and some of the infection can destroy the liver, cause cancer and cirrhosis, and death.
The medical practitioner said, the hospital lacks the drug Interferon, used widely in the developed world to treat hepatitis B, and has been instead treating patients with the anti-viral drug Lamuvidine usually used for treating HIV infection.
Gbarpolu County health Officer of Dr. Anthony Tucker confirmed the increase in County residents suffering from the disease. A majority of people showing up at clinics and the hospital in Gbarpolu County turn out to have either an active or inactive form of the disease, Tucker said.
“Overall it is on the increase,” Tucker said. Tucker said he would provide statistics on hepatitis B infection rates in the county later in the week.
The British Health Protection Agency, an independent arm of the government, notes Liberia “has a high prevalence of hepatitis B,” while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control classify infection levels as “high” in Liberia, as well as in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
The hospital in Bopolu suffers from a chronic shortage of necessary drugs, Washington said. Medications are supplied by the Ministry of Health on a quarterly basis.
“Before we come to the end of the quarter, we are already out of important drugs,” he said. When patients require medications the hospital has run out of, they are often told they must go to the drug store to buy them for their treatment, Washington said.
The hepatitis B virus can be spread through contact with bodily fluids, including blood and semen, from an infected person. The U.S. National Institutes of Health warn that hepatitis B infection can be acquired through sex, tattoos, shared toothbrushes, razors and nail clippers.
Those infected may have no early symptoms, may feel sick for a period of days or weeks, or may become very ill, the NIH advises. Signs of the disease may not appear until six months after infection.
Early symptoms can include appetite loss, fatigue, low-grade fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and vomiting, and yellow skin and dark urine, according to the NIH. Liver damage can be occurring in people who are having no symptoms of hepatitis B infection, the NIH says. The disease can be also acquired through sex and sharing of razors, toothbrushes and nail clippers.