Posted on July 24, 2018

Education, increased public awareness, and surveillance are all being noted as factors contributing to the continued reduction in the number of viral hepatitis cases diagnosed in Qatar each year. Between 2010 and 2016 over 4,400 cases of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) were diagnosed in Qatar, with 228 of those cases identified in 2015 and 163 in 2016, demonstrating a continued year-on-year decrease.

Reducing the spread of viral hepatitis has continued to be a priority for Qatar, with significant investment being made toward both diagnosing and treating those infected. All pregnant women, blood donors, and those working in high-risk professions, such as healthcare, food service, and personal care industries, including barber shops and beauty salons, are tested for the virus annually. Additionally, every newcomer to the country is screened for a number of infectious diseases, including hepatitis, to identify those infected, provide them with care, and prevent the spread of the disease. All babies born in Qatar are also vaccinated at birth against hepatitis.

Dr. Muna Al Maslamani, Medical Director of Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Communicable Disease Center (CDC), says: “Qatar has remained proactive in its efforts to prevent the spread of infectious diseases among the population. We have set up a national disease surveillance system for the early detection of infectious diseases. We have also fortified our healthcare structure by implementing high-quality infection control measures and ensuring that healthcare workers and others employed in what are considered to be high-risk professions are annually screened for viral hepatitis.”

Dr. Al Maslamani, who is also the Senior Consultant for HMC’s Infectious Diseases Division, says the CDC is dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of infectious diseases such as hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), leprosy, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), influenza, measles, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). She says the continued decrease in the number of viral hepatitis cases diagnosed in Qatar each year is a direct result of the country’s strong surveillance system and the implementation of a national immunization plan for newborns.

“The screening of all newcomers to Qatar at the Medical Commission and the vaccination of babies at birth are the main reasons for the marked decline in the prevalence of hepatitis in Qatar,” said Dr. Al Maslamani. She added that all individuals in Qatar who are diagnosed with viral hepatitis are provided with adequate medical care, without discrimination. Treatment for viral hepatitis is normally supportive, meaning care given to prevent, control, or relieve complications and side effects and to improve the patient's comfort and quality of life.

Describing viral hepatitis, its causes, and symptoms, Dr. Moutaz Derbala, HMC Senior Consultant Gastroenterology, explains that viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by a viral infection. “Viral hepatitis is caused by five main viruses, referred to as type A, B, C, D, and E. It is considered a ‘silent killer’ as an infected person may show limited or no symptoms. When there are symptoms, these normally include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain,” Dr. Derbala highlights.

According to the World Hepatitis Alliance, 9 out of 10 of the suspected 325 million people worldwide living with viral hepatitis are unaware they have the virus. The World Hepatitis Alliance is using World Hepatitis Day 2018, 28 July, to raise awareness of the need for greater screening, diagnosis, and care for those who have the virus and are undiagnosed.