Eliminating hepatitis within the Bukan Hari Community in Nasarawa State

Beacon Youth Initiative’s (BYI) primary and strategic focus is on health information on viral hepatitis and other emerging diseases and services to improve the quality of life of the poor, hard to reach, vulnerable communities in its target location. BYI is dedicated and committed to promoting and improving individual and community health in the context of effect of drugs abuse and viral and non-viral hepatitis, HIV/AIDS prevention, malaria prevention and sexual and reproductive health through the delivery of quality services that are specific and tailored made for each target group and population, addressing specific drivers of the epidemic and vulnerability factors that influence drugs abuse, and viral and non-viral hepatitis and HIV among target groups.

The campaign

The Bukan Hari community lives in Lafia, Nasarawa State in central Nigeria. We have found that 17% of people within this community live with hepatitis B and 15% with hepatitis C. Without finding the undiagnosed and linking them to care, people will continue to suffer and lives will be lost.

Partnering with the Ministry of Health of Nasarawa State and other stakeholders to hold World Hepatitis Day (WHD) activities had been a long-time dream of ours. WHD offers civil society the opportunity to reach greater numbers of people to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, and the participation of a government ministry would only increase interest.

In 2018 this dream came true when we collaborated with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Philip Pharmaceutical (Nigeria) LTD., Horse Power Pharmaceutical LTD., Mega we Care and the Ministry of Health for Nasarawa State to hold a series of events for WHD. This was a historic campaign as previously the State government had shown no interest in coming together, despite our advocacy.

On the day, we held an awareness rally from the Ministry of Health in Lafia to Bukan Hari, distributed Information and Education Communication (IEC) materials to over 3,000 people and screened 300 people for viral hepatitis, referring those found to be positive on to care and treatment.

To on-board the Ministry of Health, as well as our other partners, we began by writing letters seeking partnership. We used the 2010 WHO resolution to hold our government to account to celebrate WHD and offered a partnership with not only us but other stakeholders. We also raised awareness amongst, and held sensitisation sessions specifically for, the State Ministry of Health, dispelling some of the myths and misconceptions that surround viral hepatitis meaning they were willing to get tested too.

We also had to on-board the Bukan Hari community. We did this by reaching out to and partnering with the community’s leader. Once everyone had come together, we held meetings to discuss planning and how best to mobilise resources for the day’s activities. We then moved on to arranging the logistics including recruiting volunteers, planning road closures and informing the media.

In response to the day’s activities the Director of Public Health for the Ministry of Health, Lafia said, “This was the first-ever World Hepatitis Day celebration that the Nasarawa State Ministry of Health has ever commemorated, bringing a pool of partners together. It has shown that through multi-sectorial approaches, viral hepatitis can be eliminated. Thank you Beacon Youth Initiative for the coordination”.

The day was a great success, with all partners involved bringing their expertise into play.

Top tips for success

We found that the following steps helped make the activity a success:

  • Constant advocacy and trips to see government officials, other partners and the concerned community helped ensure their engagement.
  • Successfully on-boarding the Bukan Hari community leader was key as he was at the forefront of engaging and mobilising community members.
  • Educating and raising awareness amongst the State Ministry of Health was really useful and led to them seeking testing and vaccination too.

Achievements to date

Our work achieved a lot, including:

  • Coordinating the first-ever WHD commemorated by Nasarawa State government, which led to stakeholders making the commitment to eliminate viral hepatitis in Nasarawa State.
  • Strengthening the viral hepatitis programme in Nasarawa State and facilitating effective partnership between the government and pharmaceutical companies for affordable drugs and diagnostic services.
  • The Ministry of Health included viral hepatitis services as part of its mandate and committed resources for the elimination of viral hepatitis and the development of state-wide policies to fight hepatitis.

Challenges

We faced a few challenges, but always sought to overcome them:

  • Originally, we had wanted to reach out to four different local government areas (LGAs), but due to funding constraints we had to limit ourselves to one.
  • We had a shortage of testing kits, which limited the number of beneficiaries. To make up for this, we made sure referrals were given access to more screening in our offices.
  • Most of the beneficiaries do not have phones making them hard to reach to inform them of their test results. Instead, we asked them for descriptive addresses so we could easily find them.

Key learnings

  • We are confident that through multi-sectorial approaches to ‘Find the Missing Millions’, the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030 can be achieved.
  • Community awareness-rallying, sensitisation and mobilisation are key strategies towards creating more demands for hepatitis screening and treatment services.
  • Consistent advocacy to relevant stakeholders has greatly influenced the decisions of partners for the elimination of viral hepatitis.

Find out more

If you’re interested in finding out more about how you can hold your government accountable to encourage them to celebrate WHD, contact Beacon Youth Initiative at beaconyouthinitiative@gmail.com or at beaconyouthinitiative@yahoo.com.