Dr. Catherine Freeland, Dr. Yasmin Ibrahim and representatives from the Hepatitis Community Advisory Board participated in the Africa Hepatitis Summit. Following the meeting local advocacy visits were conducted in Delta State by Dr. Freeland. 

Doylestown, Pa., Nov. 15, 2023 – The Hepatitis B Foundation extended its engagement in Africa this fall with staff participating in two major, influential conferences: the Conference on Liver Disease in Africa (COLDA), held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in September and the African Hepatitis Summit in Abuja, Nigeria in October.

Dr. Catherine Freeland, PhD, MPH, Associate Director of Public Health Research, presented at both meetings. Afterward, she joined with representatives of the Hepatitis Advocacy Foundation, the Delta State Ministry of Health (SHM), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Excellence Community Education and Welfare Scheme to pay an advocacy visit to Her Excellency, Deaconess Tobore Oborevwori, the First Lady and wife of the Governor of Delta State. Their purpose was to advocate for improved resources for hepatitis B.

Deaconess Tobore Oborevwori (left) with Dr. Catherine Freeland

As a result, the advocacy team reported, “with great pleasure we announce and commend Her Excellency and her husband, His Excellency Rt. Hon. (Elder) Sheriff F. O. Oborevewori, Executive Governor of Delta State, for their timely executive responses as the first step towards addressing hepatitis B and C in Delta State.”

Following the visit to the First Lady, His Excellency, the Governor of Delta State approved the inclusion of free Hepatitis B and C screening for all pregnant women in the state. Resources for this effort have been included under the Delta State Contributory Health Commission. This was an historical decision as the first Governor to do this. Additionally, the First Lady, Deaconess Tobore Oborevwori has put forth a recommendation for hepatitis B and C to be included within the existing HIV/AIDS anti-discrimination, prevention and protection law of 2022 for Delta State. These are commendable steps towards improving access to care and anti-discriminatory protections for the 6 million people in Delta State. Estimates are that approximately 5% of the population could be chronically infected, though the exact prevalence for the state is uncertain.

At the COLDA meeting, Dr. Freeland presented the Hepatitis B Foundation’s research on the impact of hepatitis B discrimination in Africa. The research addressed the significant impact of hepatitis B discrimination, highlighting the injustice of discrimination and the need for policy change across the continent to prevent discrimination and its consequences for those living with hepatitis B.

Dr. Freeland served on the organizing committee for the African Hepatitis Summit (AHS) and Dr. Yasmin Ibrahim, MD, PhD, MBA, Public Health Program Director, attended the Summit in Nigeria. The Hepatitis B Foundation hosted a session on Addressing Hepatitis B Stigma and Discrimination in Africa and which was co-chaired by Dr. Gibril Ndow, Head of the Hepatitis Research Group at the MRC Unit The Gambia, and Pharm. Prince O. Okinedo of the Hepatitis Advocacy Foundation of Delta State.

Several other representatives both with lived experience and representing the community from across the continent were panelists and shared the importance of disseminating accurate information to reduce stigma in the community and prevent discrimination. Participants spoke about challenges accessing employment opportunities if they test positive for hepatitis B. Additional topics during the AHS focused on improving access to testing, management and treatment for individuals with viral hepatitis and on improving preventative measures like timely hepatitis B vaccine birth dose at the local level.

Following the African Hepatitis Summit, Dr. Freeland and a team of local advocates from the Hepatitis Advocacy Foundation of Delta State, led by Pharm. Prince, visited the Delta State Ministry of Health (SMH) leadership. Headed by the Hon. Commissioner for Health, Dr. Joseph Onojaeme, they included the Permanent Secretary for Health, Dr. Mrs. Philomena Okeowo; the Director of Public Health, Dr. Christian Tetshola; the Hon. Commissioner for Women Affairs, Community and Social Development, Hon. Barr. (Evang. Mrs.) Pat. Ajudua. The group discussed needs and strategies for improving testing, linkage to care, vaccine birth dose, reduced stigma and discrimination, and access to treatment. The Hepatitis Advocacy Foundation together with the Delta State Ministry of Health Team hosted a Hepatitis Symposium on Oct. 30, to discuss key opportunities to improve hepatitis B and C care.

Working with local partners in Nigeria including the African Field Epidemiology Network and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Hepatitis B Foundation and Dr. Freeland have been engaged in a birth-dose program since 2021. The program aims to improve the number of babies that are given the hepatitis B vaccine within their first 24 hours of life by making the birth dose more accessible in healthcare facilities. The program also is educating healthcare workers and pregnant women in Nigeria on the importance of the hepatitis B birth dose and empowering them to request the vaccine for their baby after delivery.