As a public health consultant and clinical pharmacist, Dr Nseabsi Ekanem works to strengthen public healthcare systems in Nigeria. Keen to eliminate hepatitis B and C in his country, Dr Ekanem runs an award winning non-governmental organisation, Trinity Healthcare Foundation. From running hepatitis awareness campaigns to offering free hepatitis screening and vaccination sessions, the organisation is at the forefront of the fight against viral hepatitis in Nigeria.
I was inspired to work in the field of viral hepatitis because of my desire to reduce the huge burden of this disease in Nigeria. Often, patients in my country die without accessing care due to the silent nature of the disease. As viral hepatitis is often symptomless up until chronic infection, many don’t know they are living with the disease until it is too late.
I believe the greatest challenge to the elimination is lack of funding. I wanted to help, and so I decided to get involved in the fight against viral hepatitis by starting my own organisation.
Trinity Healthcare Foundation was established in 2016 in Lagos. Starting as an online advocacy group made up of young passionate advocates, we used social media to fill the information gap created by reluctant government agencies.
In 2017, we became a non-governmental organisation. Although hepatitis kills more people than HIV/AIDS, the disease is not given the same level of attention. We therefore chose to focus on educating Nigerians about hepatitis and raising awareness of this global killer.
This year we started a new grassroots sensitisation programme, the HepAware Project. It raises awareness of viral hepatitis, its prevention, diagnosis and treatment to those at the grassroots and aims to address the barriers to elimination in Nigeria.
We realised that social media fails to get the message across to all our intended audiences, as many Nigerians do not have access to the internet. Therefore, to educate large numbers of audiences, we take our HepAware Programme to community settings such as churches and mosques. When speaking to worshippers, our team of hepatologists and gastroenterologists use pictures and infographics for easy understanding. We also hand out Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials which detail the causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment options. We offer screening and vaccination services too.
I believe that following the recently published gloomy statistics on the viral hepatitis burden in Nigeria, the government and other non-state actors will begin to address the barriers to elimination in Nigeria.