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Hepatitis B and C viruses can cause an immune response and inflammation in the body, so vaccinating against them is essential. Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dubai: With vaccinations, screenings and awareness programmes, the UAE aims to eradicate hepatitis by 2030, the country’s Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said on Wednesday, in view of World Hepatitis Day, observed annually on July 28.

MoHAP said it has made hepatitis eradication a top priority for the country’s health system by implementing a national programme that brings together the government and private healthcare sectors to strengthen control measures and sustain productive initiatives.

Marking World Hepatitis Day, the Ministry stated that the occasion offers a crucial opportunity to raise public awareness about the disease and familiarise people with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment methods to confront hepatitis, reduce the risk of infection, and prevent transmission.

Dr. Hussain Abdul Rahman Al Rand, assistant undersecretary for the Public Health Sector, said: “The Ministry of Health is committed to providing healthcare professionals with the latest disease diagnosis protocols and formulating comprehensive plans to prevent transmission. We aim to broaden the reach of testing, care, and treatment services while enforcing robust policies to mitigate its spread, integrating the most current global treatment practices into our approach.”

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone from birth up to age 60 years get hepatitis B vaccination

Vaccinations since 1991

Al Rand said: “In line with the Ministry’s commitment to achieving the World Health Organisation’s objective of eradicating hepatitis by 2030, the hepatitis B vaccine has been included in the National Immunisation Programme’s basic vaccination requirement since 1991. This proactive approach, taken to combat an infectious disease that can lead to acute and chronic infections, has placed the UAE at the forefront in the region to adopt such preventative measures.”

Al Rand went on to say that the UAE health authorities will continue to highlight the hazards of the disease and clarify the importance of its early detection through initiatives and awareness campaigns. “We are determined to achieve the vision of our wise leadership, by fostering community health and enhancing individuals’ quality of life.”

He added that this can be achieved by adhering to top-tier international health practices and developing a comprehensive legislative system with the intention of protecting society from diseases.

Preventive measures

MoHAP has implemented a comprehensive set of measures aimed at countering hepatitis. These include raising awareness, vaccinating travellers and healthcare workers, and instituting hepatitis B and C screenings for those at greatest risk. This is in addition to implementing screenings during premarital check-ups, residency tests, and occupational health evaluations across the country. MoHAP is also intensifying its efforts to meet the objectives of the global strategy to eradicate viral hepatitis by 2030.

Hepatitis is part of a family of viruses that includes hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. These viruses infect millions of individuals worldwide and can lead to both acute and chronic liver disease. Transmission of these viruses is typically through contaminated blood or blood products or through the use of infected equipment during medical procedures and surgeries.

Did you know the kidney connection?

While hepatitis is a viral infection that primarily affects the liver, it can also have significant effects on the kidneys and potentially lead to kidney injury and liver cirrhosis under certain circumstances, a UAE doctor highlighted on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day.

“There are several types of viral hepatitis, including hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, with hepatitis B and C being the most common culprits for these complications,” said Dr Prem Geovanni Johnson, specialist nephrology at Aster Hospital, Al Qusais.

He said Hepatitis B and C viruses can cause an immune response and inflammation in the body. “This inflammatory response may not only target the liver but also affect other organs, including the kidneys. The exact mechanism by which hepatitis viruses cause kidney injury is not fully understood, but it is thought to involve immune-mediated processes and the deposition of immune complexes in the kidneys.”

One of the kidney-related complications that can arise from hepatitis is called “Membranous Glomerulonephritis,” which involves inflammation and damage to the glomeruli—tiny filters in the kidneys responsible for filtering blood and removing waste products. “As a result, the kidneys’ ability to function properly is compromised, leading to proteinuria or protein in the urine, and potential impairment of kidney function.”

Hepatitis and liver cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis is a late-stage, irreversible scarring of the liver caused by many different forms of liver diseases, including viral hepatitis.

“When a person is infected with hepatitis B or C, the immune response against the virus can lead to ongoing inflammation and damage to liver cells over an extended period. As liver cells are repeatedly injured, the liver attempts to repair itself, leading to the formation of scar tissue.”

As the cycle of injury and repair continues, Dr Johnson said, the healthy liver tissue is gradually replaced by scar tissue, which impairs the liver’s ability to function properly. This condition is known as cirrhosis.

“Liver cirrhosis can lead to liver failure, liver cancer, and various complications, including portal hypertension (increased blood pressure in the liver’s portal vein), ascites (fluid accumulation in the abdomen), hepatic encephalopathy (brain dysfunction due to liver failure), and more.”

Dr Johnson said it is important to note that not everyone who contracts hepatitis B or C will develop liver cirrhosis or kidney injury.

“The progression of these complications varies among individuals and can be influenced by factors such as the person’s immune response, genetics, lifestyle, and the duration of the infection before diagnosis and treatment.”

Prevention and early treatment of hepatitis are essential in reducing the risk of developing severe liver and kidney complications.

“Hepatitis B can be prevented with vaccination, and both hepatitis B and C can be treated with antiviral medications, which can reduce the risk of liver cirrhosis and kidney injury if initiated early in the course of the infection. Regular monitoring and follow-up with healthcare providers are crucial for those at risk of hepatitis to detect and manage any complications promptly,” added Dr Johnson.