Distribution of hepatitis B virus infection in Namibia
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BACKGROUND: Namibia regards hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection as a public health problem and introduced hepatitis B vaccinations for infants during 2009. However, information on HBV infection in the country remains limited, and effective public health interventions may be compromised in the absence of adequate evidence-based data. Available data from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that 15 - 60% of the normal population in many African countries may be positive for one or more of the HBV serological markers. OBJECTIVE: To investigate the distribution of HBV infection in Namibia, using available laboratory data for 2013. METHODS: A cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted using pre-existing electronic laboratory data on HBV infection. The data were retrieved from the central Namibia Institute of Pathology laboratory in Windhoek during January - December 2013. Tests were done on the following three main groups: (i) pregnant women during routine antenatal care (ANC) visits; (ii) patients with HIV/AIDS during antiretroviral therapy clinic visits; and (iii) any other individual suspected of having HBV infection. RESULTS: Of a total of 77 238 hepatitis B surface antigen test results retrieved countrywide, 9 087 (11.8%) were positive. Of the positive results, 246/9 087 (2.7%) were in children aged 0 - 14 years, with the sexes equally affected. HBV infections increased markedly, particularly among females, in the age group 15 - 39 years, reaching a peak in the age group 30 - 34 years. Routine screening of pregnant women for HBV during ANC visits was found to be systematically conducted in only two regions, Ohangwena and Khomas. CONCLUSIONS: This study showed high proportions of positive results in pregnant women, patients with HIV/AIDS and individuals suspected of having HBV infection. The Ministry of Health and Social Services and stakeholders may wish to consider improving the routine and surveillance reporting systems for viral hepatitis and uptake of screening for pregnant women in all regions, and expanding HBV screening to other population groups. Population-based or similar studies are therefore required to determine the HBV prevalence and risk factors. This will assist Namibia in developing appropriate national viral hepatitis strategies as per WHO recommendations.
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