Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Contaminated needles and exposure to blood products transmit this virus. If not treated, this infection may cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
According to the statistics, 400,000 people die from hepatitis C worldwide. Nearly 71 million people develop chronic hepatitis C infection and 10 million of these belong to sub-Saharan Africa. The worst of all, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, currently available.
The largest ever population study of hepatitis C in Africa has identified three new strains of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa. It is collaborative research between the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research.
Both the research centers advocate that many antiviral drugs currently used in the West are not effective against the new strains. On the basis of this study, they propose clinical trials of patients in sub-Saharan Africa to find optimal treatment strategies for this region.
The findings of this study are published in the Journal Hepatology and are available online to view. This discovery of new hepatitis viral strains is a hitch for treatment medicines and vaccine development worldwide.
Read the study here.
In the year 2016, the World Health Organisation announced its project to eradicate hepatitis C by 2030, considering it as a public health problem.
In the Western World, there are many antiviral medicines available that are helping to treat hepatitis C for its multiple strains. The new medicines tailored for special strains are currently available in high-income countries only.
The research on HCV in sub-Saharan Africa and many low-income regions is limited and not well documented. The access to medicines and medical facilities is low and even the local strains are not well studied. This is a big hindrance in control of hepatitis C virus globally.
How Was the Study Conducted?
This study investigated HCV in sub-Saharan Africa. The research team carefully screened the blood samples of 7751 people from the general population of Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They used molecular methods and 20 samples were declared HCV free among these samples.
Then the sequencing of HCV genome told that there are completely new strains of the virus, in addition to already existing strains. These new strains are circulating rapidly and were never seen before in this region. They also propose that currently used medicines for hepatitis C may not work effectively on these news strains.
There is a constant effort of internal organizations to control hepatitis C strains in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of its population has optimal treatments facilities. Considering there is no vaccine available, it is extremely difficult to control the outburst of hepatitis this time.
The scientists also discovered that present-day screening methods for antibody detection are inaccurate in Uganda. This detection of the virus itself should be competent especially for high-risk populations like these.
Many hepatitis strains carry mutations in genes that may be associated with antiviral drug resistance. That’s why more careful approaches are needed for the diagnosis and treatment of HCV effectively in Africa.
What Are the Future Prospects?
The study focuses that there must be more investment in the health sector for people in Africa and other developing parts of the world. The research clearly tells that HCV is not only spreading but the new strains are also emerging. It is a public health concern that needs appropriate measures.
The prime areas that need attention for hepatitis control in undeveloped and developing regions are developing new medicines, vaccines, public attention, hygiene, and self-care etc. all these factors together will contribute in World Health Organization’s mission to eradicate Hepatitis C by 2030.