Pandemic curbs hepatitis-E

23 February 2021 | Health

Windhoek • [email protected]

Three years after a hepatitis-E outbreak was declared in Namibia that has killed dozens of people, the response to the Covid-19 pandemic has helped slow down new infections and deaths in the country’s informal settlements.
Five deaths were reported last year from hepatitis-E infections and none so far in 2021.
In contrast, between December 2017 and September 2018, 55 people died from the viral infection.
“There is a notable downward trend in the number of hepatitis-E cases during the last two months,” the latest health ministry situation report confirms.
The report adds that while the national response programme to bring the outbreak under control has been scaled down due to Covid-19, the health ministry has received a N$4 million donation from the Japanese embassy, via the World Health Organisation (WHO), to boost the response.
The report highlights that more than half a million people have been reached through hepatitis social mobilisation programmes.
With funding from the Japanese embassy, the UNDP and Development Workshop of Namibia (DWN) have spearheaded community-led sanitation programmes that are reaping rewards and improving health and hygiene in informal residential areas.
Forty demonstration toilets built in targeted areas have resulted in communities building more than 400 toilets in some of the most under-serviced urban areas across the country. Moreover, the introduction of thousands of tippy taps - easy to construct wash basis - in response to Covid-19 by the DWN and others, have drastically improved access to handwashing facilities in places where sanitation facilities are scarce.

Numbers down
The report concludes that in general “a significant downwards trend has been observed in the number of cases reported,” including deaths.
Between 11 and 24 January 2021, only one new infection was reported, compared to eight during the two weeks of 28 December 2020 to 10 January 2021. The case was reported in the Otjozondjupa region, and no other regions registered new cases.
Over the past eight weeks, between 30 December and 24 January, 26 new cases were reported nationwide, in the Khomas, Erongo, Otjzondjupa, Omusati and Oshikoto regions.
The report confirms that hepatitis E remains a disease that impacts informal settlement residents “where access to potable water, sanitation and hygiene is limited”.
In total, 8 045 cases were reported since the start of the outbreak and 24 January this year.
Between March 2020, when the first Covid-19 cases were reported in Namibia, and January this year, hepatitis-E cases increased by 588 cases.
In contrast, between October 2018 and 1 December 2019, hepatitis-E cases increased by more than 3 000, from 3 859 infections to 6 904.
Between January 2018, when infections stood at 294 cases, the numbers shot up to 3 859 by December 2018.
In 2019, infections soared by more than 2 100 new cases, from 4 227 in January 2019 to 6407 in September 2019. Between October 2018 and August 2019, fatalities increased from 31 deaths to 55.

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