NAHA, founded in 2016 by patients, their families and the Gambia Liver Team
The National Hepatitis Association, NAHA, The Gambia, was founded in 2016 by The Gambia Liver Team under the leadership of Dr Ramou Njie, Hepatologist, working together with Dr Sheikh Omar Bittaye, Mr Saydiba Tamba and patients & families affected by the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). This undertaking followed the realization that the fight against HBV required a concerted effort, which HAD to include the participation of those who were directly affected.
Chronic infection with HBV is very common in The Gambia (about 10% of adults >30 years are infected with the virus). Most are not even aware of it. For the last 30 years or so, since the inception of the Gambia Hepatitis Intervention Study (GHIS), the majority of children in Gambia born after 1990 have been vaccinated against HBV. However, adults over 30 years of age were born before the vaccine was introduced and may have been infected in childhood which increases the likelihood of carrying the HepB virus for life.
We need to pay a special tribute to the late Muhamadou Lamin Gassama (who sadly died in 2016 of liver cancer due to HBV at the young age of 39); despite his illness, he helped enormously in mobilizing patients, picking them up and driving them to meetings, clinics etc. He also helped in fund-raising and participated in the writing of the NAHA constitution. He was highly motivated, extremely energetic, and even though he fully accepted his advanced illness and inevitable impending death with grace, he was nevertheless determined to teach others and encourage them to get screened early and treated if necessary so that they do not suffer a similar fate. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
At the time of setting up NAHA, knowledge about Hepatitis B Virus and its effects was poor among the general public and infected patients alike. This buttressed the need to bring patients together to form an association with the main aim of raising awareness about HBV and promoting the welfare of people who are infected or affected by viral hepatitis in the Gambia. There was an urgent need to empower members with knowledge about viral hepatitis infection and its consequences, and to help them develop skills to effectively participate in policy development aimed at improving viral-hepatitis related service delivery in The Gambia. Our patient group was very committed and we in the liver clinic were happy to use our own resources to bring patients together from all corners of The Gambia.
In spite of financial and other challenges, we were able to organize annual World Hepatitis Day commemoration events starting from 2015, in which ALL the stakeholders from the Ministry of Health, the WHO country office, the research community (MRCG) came together with NAHA to discuss the way forward in our quest to eliminate HBV and its consequences of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer from our community.
In addition, the Liver Team organized several HBV-specific training and other training activities for NAHA executives/members to empower them with the right knowledge and counselling skills in addition to getting them to assist in the organization of outreach screening activities.
Since its inception, NAHA has been working with relevant stakeholders (Ministry of Health, World Health Organization, and Medical Research Council) in the fight against viral hepatitis, specifically HBV. Together with the Gambia Liver Team, NAHA members were actively involved in the writing of the National Viral Hepatitis Strategic Plan and Policy document of The Gambia. NAHA as an organization was formally registered as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in November 2018 with the Ministry of Justice.
NAHA is currently headed by an executive committee with a membership of 250 patients and advisers, and continues to grow from strength to strength.