Hooray: No lives lost to hepatitis-E in 2021

06 January 2022 | Health

JANA-MARI SMITH

WINDHOEK

Namibia’s hepatitis-E outbreak claimed zero lives in 2021, compared to four deaths recorded in 2020 and 23 fatalities in 2019.

Between September 2017, when health workers first noticed the outbreak, and the end of 2018, 39 people died from the disease.

A total of 66 lives were lost to the hepatitis-E outbreak, which affected poverty-stricken Namibians living in informal settlements with little access to clean water and toilets.

Of the fatalities, 23 (41%) were women who died shortly before or after giving birth.

The latest available situation report on the hepatitis-E outbreak shows that by 15 August 2021, a cumulative total of 8 090 cases had been reported countrywide.

Khomas remains the most affected region, accounting for 62% of confirmed and suspected cases, followed by Erongo.

In January 2021, a cumulative total of 8 030 cases had been reported, showing an increase of just 70 new infections during 2021.

In comparison, between January and May 2020, more than 600 new infections were reported, and over 3 700 hepatitis E infections were reported between September 2018 and 2019. Between September 2017 and July 2018, a total of 2 554 cases had been reported.

By May last year, the disease had spread to all regions in Namibia, except Zambezi. Khomas at the time had recorded close to 5 000 cases, followed by the Erongo Region with close to 1 800 cases. Nearly 350 cases had been reported in Omusati, followed by 166 in Kavango, 161 in Ohangwena and similar numbers in Otjozondjupa, Omaheke and Hardap. The lowest number of infections was reported in //Karas region and Kunene.

Covid benefit

In response to the outbreak, the ministry of health and social services, with support from several local and international partners, including the World Health Organisation and the government of Japan, which provided financial support to WHO, implemented multi-pronged approaches to curb the outbreak.

In 2020, the ministry and other commentators pointed out that efforts to boost sanitation infrastructure and awareness in informal settlements in response to the Covid-19 pandemic inadvertently included a positive spill-over effect to help curb the hepatitis-E outbreak.

"Even though efforts are diverted mainly to the Covid-19 pandemic response, there is a beneficial spill-over from the sanitation and hygiene practices of Covid-19 interventions to the hepatitis outbreak control," the health ministry noted in mid-2020.

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