Hepatitis E cases continue rising
15 May 2020 | Local News
While no new Covid-19 infections have been in recorded in Namibia for more
than 30 days, hepatitis E infections continue to rise by dozens every two weeks.
Since January, close to 600 new infections were reported to health authorities
from just above 7 000 in early January to 7 642 cases as of 19 April.
This data is from the latest situation analysis of the protracted outbreak that
erupted in late 2017.
The country’s poorest citizens, who eke out their lives in the underserviced
informal settlements without equitable access to water and toilets, are the only
victims of the nationwide outbreak.
The total number of people who have died from hepatitis E since the outbreak
began has remained at 65 since March, totalling six deaths since January from
the disease. Among the 65 deaths, 26 were maternal deaths, including pregnant
women or women who had recently given birth.
Since January, the total number of infections in the Khomas region increased by
307 cases, from 4 422 to 4729.
In the Erongo region, the second hardest region in the country, infections
increased from 1 563 in January to 1 631 by 19 April.
The latest situation report ending 19 April states that a total of 55 hepatitis E
cases were reported country-wide between 6 and 19 April, compared to 79 cases
during the prior two weeks between 23 March and 5 April.
Of the total number of infections, the majority (59%) were male, and 72% were
in the age group 20 to 39 years-old.
Nevertheless, the national response to stop Covid-19 has seen a positive
spillover into efforts to contain hepatitis E.
Private organisations and government initiatives have significantly boosted
access to safe water, hand-washing facilities and sanitation opportunities in the
informal settlements since March.
Dr Bernard Haufiku said this week there has been a positive overlap from efforts
to fight Covid-19 into efforts to curtail the hepatitis E outbreak. He underlined
further that while the Covid-19 fight is far from over, work towards eliminating
hepatitis E in Namibia should continue to be proactive.
He cautioned that the overwhelming response from all sectors in Namibia
against Covid-19, while it is working in favour of the battle against hepatitis E,
does not mean there is not still a lot of work to be done to stop hepatitis E once
the danger of Covid-19 passes.
Haufiku further highlighted that the strong response by private and government
sectors to Covid-19 shows what can be done when all hands are on deck.
An April 2020 brief issued by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) on the nationwide outbreak noted that the Namibian government
estimates that approximately 40% of households in urban areas are located in
informal neighbourhoods “with minimal infrastructure, limited access to latrines
and piped water, and poor hygiene”.
The CDC paper underlines that “improved hand hygiene and sanitation practices
and access to safe water are needed to interrupt the transmission of hepatitis E
virus in this protracted national outbreak, especially given the high risk of
mortality to pregnant women.”
Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programmes have been implemented as
a key driver to address the hepatitis E epidemic in Namibia.
The Development Workshop of Namibia (DWN) played a key role in fighting the
hepatitis E epidemic last year with partners and donors, by working together
with communities to erect toilets and implementing the CLTS programme in
Windhoek’s informal settlements.
With the arrival of the coronavirus in Namibia, the DWN with partners and
donors launched an emergency Covid-19 programme.
As of Thursday this week, tippy tap teams in Windhoek had erected 10 000
hand-washing installations, halfway to the goal of 20 000.
Moreover, after the programme was expanded to reach other towns, an
additional 10 000 tippy taps have been erected in various towns in Namibia by
DWN workers and 60 community volunteers.
These tippy taps serve more than 25 000 families and around 75 000 individuals.