The handover ceremony for the 120,000 hepatitis B rapid diagnostic kits took place on Monday 28 September at the Residence of the French Embassy in Laos, in the presence of the Minister of Health, Associate Prof. Dr Bounkong Syhavong. IRD will coordinate their distribution to the country's healthcare and blood transfusion centres and collect data on the current number of patients within the Laotian population.
Official handover ceremony for the diagnostic kits donated by Fondation Mérieux.
The COVID19 pandemic is a matter of great concern around the world. However, it should not overshadow the other infections that are severely affecting countries in the South.
Such is the case of viral hepatitis and in particular hepatitis B virus infections, which constitute a major public health issue, with more than 2.5 billion people infected worldwide, i.e. one person in three.
Viral hepatitis B is a liver disease that occurs after infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). In most cases, the initial hepatitis, known as acute hepatitis, may present no particular complications or symptoms. On the contrary, its chronic form is responsible for serious pathologies such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
In the world today, there are approximately 250 million people suffering from chronic illness and more than one million deaths per year due to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis B prevalence is highest in the Western Pacific and Africa (over 6% of the population). In Laos, however, studies, mainly carried out in the capital, have shown not only even higher prevalence rates but also worrying signs of hepatic suffering among the samples analysed.
Most often, hepatitis B is what scientists call "a silent disease", i.e. without symptoms, which makes it even more difficult to diagnose without proper screening tests.
As with any pathology, screening not only enables better patient care but also makes it possible to adjust public health policies in terms of vaccination, prevention and treatment.
Massive screening involves the use of easy-to-use diagnostic tools, with no specialized training required. This is the case of the VIKIA HbsAg diagnostic kit produced by Biomérieux, 120,000 copies of which were handed over to the Minister of Health on 28 September with the collaboration of the French National Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD).
This is a unique opportunity to learn about the pathology's distribution in the country and thereby enable the health authorities to take appropriate prevention and control measures that will directly benefit Lao people.
Especially since hepatitis B must be treated as early as possible. Indeed, the transmission of the virus occurs mainly from mother to child during childbirth or in the first months after birth.
Also, while in adulthood HBV infection very rarely (about 5% of cases) leads to chronic infection and illness, perinatal infection is, in most cases, associated with the development of a chronic form of the disease.
These test kits will allow researchers to calculate the extent of viral infection in Laos and also to determine whether antiviral treatments are really effective. Easy to use, they will be distributed to many provincial hospitals and blood banks and will give a very accurate picture of viral hepatitis throughout the country in order to improve the treatment of its inhabitants.