Hepatitis E battle intensifies

09 September 2019 | Health

STAFF REPORTER

Development partners came together in a big way this past weekend to support the elimination of hepatitis E in Namibia.

United Nations (UN) Namibia, the health ministry, the City of Windhoek, Development Workshop Namibia and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) are collaborating to positively impact the lives of residents.

Together with community members from the Samora Marchel and Moses Garoeb constituencies in the Khomas Region, the partners commemorated World Hepatitis Day on Saturday and simultaneously launched the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) campaign, to increase access to safe sanitation in informal settlements.

Following the declaration of a health emergency in December 2017, due to the hepatitis outbreak, there has been an increased focus on inadequate water supply and poor sanitation, which are reported to be the main drivers of the outbreak in the informal settlements.

According to a joint press release by the partners involved the CLTS launch, the initiative signals Namibia's commitment to fighting viral hepatitis.

This innovative approach mobilises community members in the two constituencies to eliminate open defecation.

It places the focus on mobilising behaviour change, to ensure sustainable improvements that go beyond the provision of toilets.

CLTS triggers the need for collective change and a self-assessment process, through which communities can better understand the risk of disease and the dangers of open defecation. Furthermore, it creates a greater sense of community ownership, in terms of considering their own wellbeing.

Health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe emphasised the need for communities to work together, to ensure the total elimination of the disease.

Additionally, he thanked the Japanese government for supporting Namibia, in its attempts to eliminate the disease, and urged the communities to take care of the facilities and not vandalise them.

“We are here to recognise that in order to curb the spread of hepatitis E in the urban and informal settlements, good sanitation and hygiene for all can be achieved in Namibia,” World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative Dr Charles Sagoe-Moses said.

According to a statement, access to improved sanitation is a basic human right, yet in Namibia 46% nationally (urban: 26% and rural: 70%) practice open defecation.

This is coupled with only 54% of the population practicing hand-washing at critical times.

Generally, when there is poor sanitation coverage, the health of populations is affected.

“The UN sister agencies are happy that the City of Windhoek and the line ministries have embraced the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach; not only to address the ongoing hepatitis E outbreak, but as a sustainable solution to address sanitation and hygiene challenges faced by Namibia,” said Sagoe-Moses.

He thanked the Japanese government for funding the hepatitis E project through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as the CLTS taskforce that worked tirelessly to mobilise their communities to build their own toilets and improve their hygiene practices, such as hand-washing with water at critical times.

The elimination of hepatitis is imperative to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and universal health coverage by 2030.

UN Namibia will continue to support national and regional policymakers to increase political and financial commitments for hepatitis the response.

Since the onset of the outbreak in September 2017, the hepatitis E virus has become the leading cause of maternal deaths.

The latest statistics show that the number of the hepatitis E infections have eclipsed the 6 000-mark, with a total of 6 151 cases reported by 11 August.

The statistics showed further that of the cases reported, 342 were maternal.