600 hepatitis E cases since January
18 May 2020 | Health
While no new coronavirus cases have been in recorded in Namibia for more than 30 days, hepatitis E infections continue to rise.
Since January, close to 600 new infections have been reported to health authorities, bringing the country's cases from just above 7 000 in early January to 7 642 in mid-April.
This data is from the latest situation analysis, ending 19 April, of the protracted outbreak that erupted in late 2017.
The country's poorest citizens, who eke out their living in the underserviced informal settlements without equitable access to water and toilets, are the only victims of the nationwide outbreak. The total number of people who have died from hepatitis E since the outbreak began has remained at 65 since March, totaling six deaths since January.
Among the 65 deaths, 26 were maternal, including pregnant women or women who had recently given birth.
Since January, the total number of infections in the Khomas Region increased by 307, going from 4 422 to 4 729.
In Erongo, the second hardest hit region in the country, infections increased from 1 563 in January to 1 631.
The latest situation report stated that a total of 55 hepatitis E cases were reported countrywide between 6 and 19 April, compared to 79 cases during the prior two weeks.
Of the total number of infections, the majority (59%) were male, and 72% were in the age group 20 to 39.
Meanwhile, the national response to stop the coronavirus pandemic has seen a positive spillover into efforts to contain hepatitis E.
Private organisations and government initiatives have significantly boosted access to safe water, hand-washing facilities and sanitation opportunities in the informal settlements since March.
However, former health minister Dr Bernard Haufiku cautioned that the overwhelming response from all sectors in Namibia against the coronavirus, while working in favour of the battle against hepatitis E, does not mean there is not still a lot of work to be done to stop the epidemic.
Haufiku also highlighted that the strong response to the coronavirus pandemic shows what can be done when all hands are on deck.
An April brief issued by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the nationwide hepatitis E outbreak noted that approximately 40% of households in urban areas are located in informal neighbourhoods “with minimal infrastructure, limited access to latrines and piped water, and poor hygiene”.
The paper underlined that “improved hand hygiene and sanitation practices and access to safe water are needed to interrupt the transmission of the hepatitis E virus in this protracted national outbreak, especially given the high risk of mortality to pregnant women”.
Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programmes have been implemented as a key driver to address the epidemic in Namibia.
The Development Workshop of Namibia (DWN) played a key role in fighting the epidemic last year by working with communities to erect toilets and implementing the CLTS programme in Windhoek's informal settlements.
As of last Thursday, tippy tap teams in Windhoek had erected 10 000 hand-washing installations, halfway to the goal of 20 000.
Moreover, after the programme was expanded to reach other towns, an additional 10 000 tippy taps have been erected in various towns in Namibia by DWN workers and 60 community volunteers.