‘Why Ebonyi state gov’t embarked on free medical check-up’

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Some of the donated medical equipment

A free medical outreach by Ebonyi state government has been ongoing in the state following recent report of deaths from certain diseases as AMARACHUKWU EGWUAGHA reports.

Unknown health challenges can be very disastrous to human beings, especially dangerous ones like cancer, hepatitis that can kill at a very short notice. This probably explains why Ebonyi state government embarked on free medical check-up for its citizens recently.

Considering the rate of death in the society with some avoidable and others unavoidable, the state government decided to do this needful.

It could be recalled that recently, Governor David Umahi lost one of his commissioners in the person of Uchechi Okah who was in charge of housing to the cold hands of death. Thereafter, the governor set up a screening committee member on cervical cancer, Hepatitis B and C on all public servants in the state. The committee which was inaugurated in May, moved into business immediately.

The late commissioner, Mrs Okah who died on May 14, 2021 was a victim of cancer-related illness. Her death became a wake-up call to everyone involved in the medical exercise.

One good thing is that the exercise gave room to people who could not afford to go for cancer screening or hepatitis due to lack of finance to participate.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer according to medical experts is a malignant tumour that develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the uterus from the vagina). 

Investigation reveals that almost 99% cases of cervical cancer are linked to infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV), an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact.
Statistics has revealed that the disease is the third most common malignancy in women worldwide while it also remains a leading cause of cancer-related death for women in developing countries.
In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that about 5,70 000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide while about 3,11 000 women died from the disease.
The unfortunate about the disease is that many women with the disease don’t realise they have it on time because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until at the late stages. When symptoms do appear, they are easily mistaken for common conditions like menstrual periods and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Hepatitis B and C

Hepatitis B and C are diseases related to cancer. These are viral infections that attack the liver and can cause both acute and chronic disease.

Hepatitis B, although most commonly acquired early in life, adults can also contract it and it’s largely transmitted through bodily fluids. It can also be passed at birth from a hepatitis B-infected mother or through exposure in early childhood to body fluids, blood or contaminated medical instruments.
Hepatitis B can also be transmitted through intranasal and injection drug use as well as infected tools used during tattooing and body piercing.
WHO estimates that in 2015, 257 million people were living with chronic hepatitis B infection (defined as hepatitis B surface antigen positive).
In 2015, the world body said the disease resulted in an estimated 887 000 deaths, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (i.e. primary liver cancer).
Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccines that are safe, available and effective.
Hepatitis C on the other hand is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. And it is a major cause of liver cancer.
Hepatitis C virus is a blood-borne virus whose most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood. This may happen through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe healthcare, transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products and sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood.
According to WHO, globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection. A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
WHO also estimated that in 2016, approximately 3,99 000 people died from hepatitis C, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
it said recently lamented that access to diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis C is low.

Committee members speak

The screening committee was headed by Pastor Eze Nwachuku Eze, the then deputy secretary to the state government with the mandate to diagnose and access treatment for cervical cancer, hepatitis B and C, for Ebonyi indigenes.

Considering the above therefore, the chief medical director, Government House Clinic who was also the state acting commissioner for health, Dr Richard Nnabu, stressed the importance of people coming out for the screening.

 He said, “In the recent past, the state lost a very dear one due to a related case under screening and the state government decided to embark on free medical checkup and treatment for preventive measure to avoid further occurrence.”

The committee chairman while speaking with Blueprint said the exercise was funded by the state government to ensure the protection of its citizens. 
Nwachukwu said the exercise started with government officials and civil servants and down to the general public while assuring that
 the state government has made adequate provisions for both screening for the diseases and the required treatments.
The screening he explained would be in phases. The first phase, he said, would target 10, 000 people, noting that anyone that test’s positive would be treated free.
“Over 30,000 doses of the vaccines have been provided for the vaccination of those who may be negative to ensure Ebonyians are protected, because a healthy state can be a productive state, vice versa.”
“The number to be screened now for both levels is 10,000 for a start, but it is a continuous exercise. Four thousand for Hapititis B,  4,000 for Hapititis C and 2,000 for cervical cancer screening.

“Governor Umahi has made it clear that he would provide more money as many Ebonyians avail themselves to be screened,” he stated. Dr Nnabu, urged the people to go for the screening to ascertain their health status on time.

“By this way, you have saved yourself of the cost of not just treating the sickness, but the time you would have wasted to access health care. When you keep the person at the primordial stage, you address that issue at that point in time with manpower so that the person can discharge his job as expected of him.
“What we are looking at now is to screen Hepatitis B and C, as well as cervical cancer. Hepatitis B and C can have the tendencies of what we call cihrrosis, it will eventually lead to liver cancer.”
“The governor has decided to take the bull by the horns. He has decided to go extra miles to mobilise manpower, human resources that should anyone having these cases, he can be screened out and treated immediately,” he added.
Giving the statistics of those screened so far and their status, Dr Nnabu, said 5,162 persons have been tested as at late June 2021.
He disclosed that for hapatitis B, 1,651 were screened and 90 were positive while 1,561 were negative and for hapatitis C, 1,561, were screened and 36 were positive while 1,615 were negative.
“Those that are negative have been vaccinated and vaccination is still on going. For those who tested negative, following the report made by the committee, the EXCO has approved that further test and treatment commence on them.”
For the screening at the local government level, he said 920 persons were screened for hepatitis B out of which 54 were positive while 856 were negative and for hapatitis C, 920 people were tested and 10 were positive, while 910 were negative. He added that vaccination has commenced simultaneously across the 13 local government areas of the state.
On Cervical cancer he said, “Screening has been going on at the National Obstetrics Fistula Centre. For the 625 women screened for cervical cancer, the commissioner noted that 511 persons have need for further test, 96 of them, he said would need cervical biopsy while 2 would need cryo therapy. He said five have been detected to have outright cervical cancer.
“We would take care of these ones even as the screening is on-going.”
Close monitoring showed that people in the state really grabbed the opportunity given to them as some who did not got the message on time were seen visiting the Government House clinic even when the first phase of the screening was over.

Furthermore, treatments and immunisation against Hepatitis B and C are still ongoing especially as the first and second dose of the immunisation has been concluded as people are waiting for the third dose that will take place in August.

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