Taraba, Roche Commence N1.3bn Hepatitis Project

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Martins Ifijeh

Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Swiss multinational Roche last year, the Taraba State Government has commenced a Hepatitis project valued at N1.3 billion to screen, vaccinate and treat people in the state in order to curb the spread of the disease.

Expert opinions within the state have estimated the prevalence of Hepatitis B to much higher than the national average. If left untreated, Hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer and many other complications. With guidance from the National Hepatitis Policy launched in 2014 by the Federal Ministry of Health, the Taraba State Government is addressing the rising prevalence of the disease.

Speaking at the kick off ceremony in Jalingo, the Governor of Taraba State, Arc. Darius Dickson Ishaku explained the reason for the project, “our Government is serious about ensuring good health for the people of Taraba and this is why we are taking a bold stand against Hepatitis. This project will provide free screening and vaccination for our people and we will also treat those who are positive.”

According to Markus Gemuend, Head, Sub-Sahara Africa for Roche, the decision to partner was easy, “we believe that improving healthcare is a shared responsibility and we are committed to playing our part. The Taraba State Government is equally committed and this partnership will ensure that our innovative medicines will reach the people who need them most.”

The project is expected to provide disease awareness and education through screening programmes across the state to aid prevention. As part of the partnership, Roche Diagnostics has provided advanced testing equipment to improve the quality of diagnosis. Healthcare workers in the state will also undergo extensive training to facilitate proper testing, diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis. With this approach, Hepatitis related cancers and deaths are expected to reduce in the State over time.

Elaborating on the impact of the project, Taraba State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Innocent Vakkai, said, over the next five years, more than 50,000 people in the State will benefit from the free screening and vaccination, and about 2,000 people were expected to be treated. “Our healthcare workers – doctors, nurses, lab scientists, pharmacists and many others will also be trained extensively and with our state of the art diagnostic equipment, we expect Taraba to become the hub for advanced diagnostics and treatment excellence in the Northeast region. The people will benefit and our economy will benefit too.”

Roche is optimistic that other State Governments will follow Taraba’s lead. According to Gemuend, ‘’Taraba’s story is a great one and we are open to collaborating with other State Governments to do the best for their people.”

Governor Ishaku also believes that the project is worth emulating and is encouraging other State Governments to follow Taraba’s lead, ‘the health of the people must be a priority for any Government and Taraba State has set a good example. By selecting the right partners and putting the right processes in place, we are showing that it is possible to provide quality healthcare for our people, in spite of the harsh economic situation in the country today.’