Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hepatitis B: A Hidden Threat in Senegal

Women and their children in Senegal are facing a growing threat of hepatitis B infection, which can lead to liver cancer and sometimes death.  A recent news report states that over two million Senegalese have the disease, and most don't even know they are infected.  Ninety percent of cases are asymptomatic, and the country doesn't have universal screening, even though 350,000 people in Senegal are chronic carriers.

Hepatitis B can pass from mom to baby during birth, so pregnant women in more developed countries are screened for the disease and infants are vaccinated within 12-24 hours of birth to prevent infection.  The World Health Organization says all infants should be vaccinated by 24 hours old, but most Senegalese babies aren't until at least six weeks, because they were not born in a hospital where the vaccine was on hand.  To make things even more difficult, birth-doses of the vaccine aren't usually covered by international health organizations.

The danger is significant.  WHO states that hepatitis B kills around 600,000 people every year and causes the majority of liver cancers.  Even if the disease is not transmitted during birth, an unvaccinated child is still vulnerable to contracting it at home from contact with an infected caregiver or close relative. Screening and prevention are necessary as those infected as infants or young children are more likely to become chronically ill.

WWHI equips Community Healthcare Workers in Senegal to provide better care to women and their children at the local level.  Rather than having to walk for miles to the nearest clinic, pregnant women can be monitored and educated in their own villages, so threats like hepatitis B can be prevented, and if necessary identified and treated.  Check out the Get Involved section of our site to find out how you can help in this vital mission.

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