July 28, 2017

How U.S. Partnerships are Saving Lives, Stopping Spread of Hepatitis

By Megan Guilfoyle

For some, getting a shot at the doctor’s office can be nerve wracking and utterly anxiety inducing. For others, injections are a cakewalk. But for everyone, a shot administered by a health professional should yield positive outcomes— immunity against deadly diseases, or the ability to fight off infection.

Unfortunately, for many people living in developing countries without strictly enforced medical hygiene and safety standards, a simple injection can sometimes lead to potentially life-threatening diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Shots are one of the most common medical procedures in the world— but nearly 5 percent of the 16 billion shots administered each year are deemed unsafe. And according to the World Health Organization, unsafe injections are the leading cause of hepatitis C in developing nations, and account for almost 2 million new cases each year.

With mortality rates rivaling that of Malaria, Tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, hepatitis has emerged as major global health threat within the last few decades. 325 million people are estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis, and every year this silent disease takes the lives of 1.34 million — with the majority of the burden falling in Africa and the Western Pacific.

But, there is good news. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Chemonics International, in collaboration with others, are working in Africa to reduce the spread of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS in health care facilities.

In Zambia, the aforementioned partners joined forces on the Medical Injection Safety Project (MISP) to ensure proper disposal of medical waste, to implement hygiene standards, and to improve injection safety procedures — all in an effort to reduce hepatitis and HIV across the country. MISP trained 1,063 health care workers and 50 health care facility supervisors and managers on proper injection safety and hygiene as well as correct waste management disposal. And the trainings are paying off.

For Gertrude Musunka, a nurse at the Ndola Central Hospital this training was especially critical. When she was hired as the Infection Prevention Coordinator, Gertrude had a limited knowledge of preemptive infection procedures and was given the position without any clear guidance. Thanks to MISP, Gertrude received formal training in best practices of injection safety and infection prevention. Armed with new knowledge from the MISP workshops, Gertrude went on to train 212 health care professionals and facility staff at her hospital through sessions that she organized and led. For her inspiring leadership, Gertrude was granted the Labor Day Award by the City of Ndola.

Evaluations of MISP reported that hand washing at health care facilities before and after injections nearly tripled, 99 percent of facilities were now using new one-time use syringes and needles, and nearly the same number had access to sharp waste disposal boxes.

Overall, deaths from hepatitis B in Zambia have declined 32.2 percent since 1990, largely thanks to projects like MISP. The advances in injection and infection safety have also led to a large overall decrease in the number of new hepatitis infections worldwide.

In honor of World Hepatitis Day, it is important that we acknowledge the great impact that public-private partnerships like MISP have had on tackling hepatitis across the globe. Without the leadership of organizations like Chemonics International and U.S. development initiatives, our world would be far less healthy, prosperous, and safe.