By Phumlani Malinga
On 28 July INHSU (The International Network on Health and Hepatitis in Substance Users), TB HIV Care, SANPUD (South African Network of People Who Use Drugs) along with the a representative from the Department of Health, Dr Kgomotso Vilakazi-Nhlapo, the Deputy Minister of Social Development Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, and others held a World Hepatitis Day Advocacy and Training Roundtable, to help drive efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in South Africa.
The World Hepatitis Day Advocacy and Training Roundtable is one of several events that INHSU has hosted with partners in the region over the past two years that are helping raise awareness and increase education around hepatitis C in the region. The speakers focused on the implementation gaps in the policy and building the advocacy skills of community coordinators. The focus for the media was to highlight the lacklustre implementation of the current policy on the elimination of the disease,encourage concrete commitment from the government to improve on this by using experts with daily experience and evidence based expert knowledge of the disease and its prevalence. The use of experts who are aware of the authority that is vested in their voices by both policy makers and the public to bring up actions that are needed to support organisations that are involved in assisting people who inject drugs makes their issues national issues.
Dr Mark Sonderup the professor of medicine and hepatology at the University of Cape Town was featured on a national broadcast channel, SABC Globe, to discuss the gaps in the awareness about the disease and implementation of existing policy in the efforts to eliminate hepatitis.His expert knowledge acquired through evidence-based science was used to shine a light on the instruments required to achieve the desired policy outcomes as stated in the National Guidelines for the Management of Viral Hepatitis (2019). National broadcast media is the best tool to reach both policy makers at a government level and influential organisations involved in its implementation.
Dr Andrew Scheibe Technical advisor at TB HIV Care and researcher at the University of Pretoria's Department of Family Medicine was interviewed by Early Breakfast with Africa Melani focused on the impact of advocacy to improve access to health care services to people who use drugs, who are at greater risk of contracting and spreading hepatitis. His expert knowledge of the availability of harm reduction services and basic health care for this key population group, made it possible for him to discuss the seriousness of the impact of non committal behaviour from national government, and the preferred solutions to the policy implementation in the effort to eliminate hepatitis.
Print media is the best platform for getting complicated information to a large group of people in a way that is digestible and repeatable. The article in the Health Section of The Herald covered expert knowledge of the impact of the disease globally and nationally. The numbers can be used to point out the urgency of the need for improvements in the implementation of existing policy.
A common thread in all the interviews was the need for more information and education on hepatitis. The interviews that Prof Wendy Spearman Head of the Division of Hepatology, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences at Groote Schuur hospital did on the The Morning Review with Lester Kiewit and The Clement Manyathela Show focused specifically on the disease; how it can be contracted, available treatment and those at risk. These conversations relied on the professor's expert knowledge of the impact the disease has on the body. In both interviews the listeners were invited to ask questions, which was a tacit acceptance of the expert knowledge that Prof Wendy Spearman has on the disease.
One of the regional radio stations, SmileFM, hosted a panel discussion between Dr Nishi Prabdial Singh, a leading South African viral hepatitis researcher based at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, and Luckyboy Edison Mkhondwane National Prevention and Treatment Literacy Training Coordinator from Treatment Action Committee. They used their expert knowledge on the advocacy challenges facing the key population of people who use drugs and how support is required from a national government to live up to its policy promises regarding this key group to eliminate the disease.