NOhep Supporter Spotlight: Davy Nkengeh
Davy Nkengeh is a 6th year medical student at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Buea in Cameroon. He is also the founder of ZEROHEP Cameroon, a community-based initiative which aims to let every Cameroonian know their hepatitis status by 2030.
In the course of preparing to lead my first community-based project, which was in commemoration of World Hepatitis Day, I discovered how big a problem viral hepatitis was in Cameroon. I realised that, sadly, there were huge gaps in almost every aspect of awareness, diagnosis, management and research. This discovery, together with my interest in GI (gastrointestinal) health, paved the way for the conception of ZEROHEP Cameroon.
At ZEROHEP Cameroon, we aim to address the problem of viral hepatitis through a range of activities.
As awareness of viral hepatitis is very low among the population, and people’s knowledge is predominated by false information which contributes to stigma, we work to raise awareness and challenge misconceptions. We do this through community-based projects, radio and TV talks, and social media education.
We also run screening camps, especially in rural areas where prevalence is estimated to be higher, and among high-risk populations. Cameroon has no national viral hepatitis programme or national guidelines for screening, diagnosis, care or treatment, and screening is mainly proposed when patients present with symptoms or when they are diagnosed with HIV. We know that early diagnosis is key to protecting people’s long-term health and preventing onward transmission, so we strive to make testing more accessible. People who test negative for hepatitis B are enrolled in a vaccination programme, and those who test positive for hepatitis B or C are linked to care with Gastroenterologists or other trained specialists.
In line with the Find the Missing Millions campaign launched by the World Hepatitis Alliance, ZEROHEP functions on a yearly calendar which currently involves the screening of at least 1000 Cameroonians for hepatitis B and C and the provision of at least 30 health talks (in churches, in radio/TV stations, in community gatherings).
There are a number of challenges to eliminating viral hepatitis, found at various levels, which we are working to overcome.
At the national level, there is a lack of public investment in fighting viral hepatitis, especially with regards to the cost of basic workup and treatment of patients. To help overcome this, ZEROHEP Cameroon advocates for greater investment from the Ministry of Public Health in order for the country to be in line with the World Health Organization’s global strategic plan for the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030.
At the healthcare level, there is relatively low awareness about viral hepatitis amongst healthcare workers. To improve knowledge and help healthcare workers realise that they play a vital role in the elimination of viral hepatitis, we organise capacity-building sessions on the diagnosis and management of viral hepatitis for medical students and medical personnel.
At the community level (and in some healthcare settings), there is a lot of stigma involved with being diagnosed with hepatitis B or C. To address this, we promote patient-centred research in the quest for solutions for tackling stigma.
My greatest hope is to see ZEROHEP achieve all its objectives and this entails greater public awareness of viral hepatitis, greater access to testing /treatment, greater government commitment and advancement into research that seeks to find solutions to the barriers which currently stand in the way of the elimination of viral hepatitis.
NOhep is the story I want to leave for future generations. For them to know that there were groups of determined individuals not just from Cameroon but every part of the world that stood up to cut off the transmission of viral hepatitis from our generation to their generations. If people could do one thing to help achieve NOhep, I think it will be knowing their status (achieved by voluntary testing), and implementing measures to prevent further transmission.