Using World Hepatitis Day as a catalyst for increasing hepatitis B awareness and testing
Sufabel Community Development Initiative (SCDI) is a non-governmental organisation that helps the community by providing advocacy, economic empowerment and resource mobilisation to children, youth and women led by males in rural and urban communities. The organisation is aimed at uplifting the livelihood of people living in both rural and urban areas by providing them with quality and friendly health services, counselling them and educating them on various aspects of life.
It is estimated by the Gombe State Ministry of Health that the prevalence of hepatitis B in the state is 11 per cent.
As a community-based organisation, SCDI conducted a routine assessment to determine the knowledge of viral hepatitis among beneficiaries of its funded TB programme for Nomads (the Koninklijke Nederlandse Centrale Vereniging tot bestrijding der Tuberculose). This assessment revealed a lack of awareness of the diseases. More so, feedback from civil society organisations (CSOs) implementing HIV/AIDS programmes for general and key populations provided further evidence which supported the lack of awareness on hepatitis as a public health concern in Gombe state.
To help address this, during World Hepatitis Day (WHD) 2019, SCDI conducted a range of awareness-raising and advocacy activities in collaboration with the state ministry of health and other CSOs. Key activities included a sensitisation rally, stakeholder engagement, a press briefing and free hepatitis screening. We offered free hepatitis B screening to over 500 people across three locations, including the Emir’s Palace and state offices of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Council and Gombe State Agency for the Control of AIDS.
Importantly, we also used this opportunity to increase the awareness and understanding of the public by sharing flyers containing information about the signs, symptoms, prevention and treatment of hepatitis. The display of hepatitis progression and an infected liver on the flyers incited shock amongst the public and it was clear that many of them had never heard about the disease.
SCDI also conducted an advocacy visit to the Permanent Secretary, Gombe State Ministry of Health, urging the creation of a unit to coordinate hepatitis intervention across the state.
Participants during the commemorative event on WHD included: representatives of the State Ministry of Health, Gombe State Agency for the Control of AIDS (GomSACA), State AIDS & STI Control program (SASCP) and other CSOs e.g. Society for Women Development & Empowerment of Nigeria, Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS and members of 3 key populations led CBOs in the state.
Achievements to date
- Several government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have participated and the media signalled potential for a joint action towards resource mobilisation for hepatitis programming
- A budget line for hepatitis activities under State ministry of health was created following the Advocacy visit during WHD
- 508 people were screened for free on WHD. Forty seven people (9 per cent, male: 28/ female: 19) tested positive for hepatitis B and were referred for further management
- Awareness on hepatitis was created across the state through media, the rally and sensitisation meetings as the State is celebrating the week for the first time
- We initially faced challenges mobilising people, however we were able to overcome this by using traditional and religious institutions
- Security was initially a challenge, but we engaged the civil defence corps to manage the crowd
- The lack of availability of the hepatitis B vaccine is an issue, as many people that tested negative were asking for it and most facilities only provide it free for children under 5. We therefore identified a private facility that people can pay for the vaccination.
- Awareness about hepatitis is very low in our community and there is need to intensify efforts to address this.
- Commodities for screening are not available and there is need to engage the government to both supply commodities and make treatment available for free.
- A lot of CSOs are interested in supporting hepatitis campaigns but capacity is lacking hence there need to build capacity of CSOs on hepatitis programming.
- World Hepatitis Day in 2019 was an excellent opportunity to bring a diverse range of stakeholders together to increase awareness of and testing for hepatitis B. However, there is a continued need to leverage this success and continue the stakeholder engagement to better establish the communities in greatest need and the strategies required to scale up a hepatitis response.
Top tips for success
- Build good working relationships with other organisations and local authorities: the strong presence of SCDI and its good working relationship with CSOs and key actors in the state health sector made it easier to mobilise partners for awareness raising and testing activities on WHD.
- Employ a robust networking strategy: SCDI created a WhatsApp group and used it to mobilise CSOs and interest groups.
- Target key populations: SCDI, through its TB projects, targeted the most vulnerable communities (Fulani Nomads) and have developed increased knowledge of the state’s population dynamics
“World Hepatitis Day, is the day that I know my status and my family status which I know nothing about the dangers of hepatitis before. So Thanks to Sufabel for giving free awareness and free testing and vaccination to my family.”
Adamu Haruna, Jekadafari Quarters, Gombe
“I never knew there is a liver disease called hepatitis, and I know may be is the disease that killed 3 of my family members, thanks to Sufabel for letting me know my status and referred me to health personal which is now am currently on treatment.”
Stephen Mairiga, Federal Low cost quarters, Gombe
“The hepatitis treatment is very expensive, none of my family member cannot afford the treatment. We are battling with three square meals how can we pay for treatment? We are calling of Government to provide free treatment like they are doing for HIV, TB and malaria”
Mrs Deborah David, Police quarters, Gombe