HepEquity Blog: Champions Don’t Wait: Dr. Charles Adjei’s Hepatitis Elimination Efforts in Ghana
In 2022, the Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination named Dr. Charles Adjei an “Elimination Champion” for his efforts to combat viral hepatitis in Ghana. The Elimination Champions program, which is accepting nominations for new champions now, aims to celebrate the efforts and achievements of people who are making major contributions to hepatitis elimination on the local, national or international level. At a time when infections are increasing, and hepatitis ranks as the sixth leading cause of mortality worldwide (causing more deaths now than HIV, malaria, or tuberculosis), people like Dr. Charles Adjei have stepped forward to lead.
Champions Don’t Wait:
Dr. Charles Adjei’s Hepatitis Elimination Efforts in Ghana
Growing up in Ghana, Charles Adjei was familiar with the health needs of his community from an early age: “My father was a medic and we lived in an apartment complex with a number of medical professionals. I can say that my compassion and willingness to assist others in need influenced my career choice.”
Charles pursued a specialty in public health at the master’s and doctoral levels in college, noting:
Public health practitioners are crucial in today’s world due to the numerous health issues requiring public health responses.
His decision to focus on hepatitis was particularly influenced by a mentor, Dr. Florence Naab. Adjei says Dr. Naab recognized his passion and advised him to “focus solely on hepatitis-related programs and research in order to carve out a niche and make an impact.”
Dr. Adjei has honored Dr. Naab’s leadership by becoming a mentor himself, preparing ten or more researchers to follow in his footsteps and take on the challenges of hepatitis elimination. He’s proud to note that several of these mentees “have made significant contributions to their respective communities and have received national and international recognition for their work in the field of viral hepatitis.”
Dr. Adjei knows that the fight against hepatitis must reach beyond research to policymakers and public health planners. As executive director of the Hepatitis Alliance of Ghana, he has been at the forefront of advocating for the introduction of hepatitis B birth dose, as well as pursuing inclusion of hepatitis B clinical monitoring and treatment in the national health insurance scheme. He is the convener of Hepatitis Summit-Ghana, where key stakeholders/policymakers, researchers, public health professionals, and health care providers join a coordinated platform to dialogue and receive training every two years in the Ghana capital. He also serves as an advisory member of the hepatitis C elimination project of the Ghana National Viral Hepatitis Control Program.
Never tiring of creating new ways to share his messages about hepatitis to save lives, Dr. Adjei organized a hepatitis B quiz competition for public universities in Ghana. He also spearheaded a call center where patients can connect to care via the STOP Hep C project, which aims to treat 50,000 people living with hepatitis C in Ghana. Dr. Adjei maps liver specialists across the country in order to efficiently direct patients who need to be clinically monitored and treated. His organization, the Hepatitis Alliance of Ghana, was also a grantee in a partnership with CGHE and CDC to create promotional materials encouraging hepatitis B birth dose that were sensitive to local languages and cultural norms.
Despite this remarkable progress, Adjei acknowledges that challenges persist.
Covid-19 had a significant impact on our program, because the national focus shifted from all other diseases to Covid-19. For instance, the key stakeholders attribute the delay in the introduction of the birth dose vaccination to the Covid-19 pandemic.
And when it comes to financial and political support for hepatitis, Adjei sees much room for improvement. “I consider the lack of funding for hepatitis programs and research in Ghana to be the greatest challenge toward hepatitis elimination. There appears to be less support for context-specific interventions for hepatitis patients as well as interventional studies that could lead to innovative approaches to addressing hepatitis-related issues in the African context. Additionally, political will to invest in hepatitis prevention is lacking in many African countries, including Ghana.”
Funding and policy roadblocks are no reason for inaction, though. Dr. Adjei insists that emerging global health leaders should move forward in spite of challenges.
My advice to emerging global health leaders who want to make a difference in their community is to look beyond the setbacks and focus on the impact they could make with the least resources available to them. I am optimistic that a life they could save with their little effort would have a greater impact than achieving nothing with the frequently cited excuse of ‘no support.’
Without the efforts of leaders like Dr. Charles Adjei, countless people might have died without access to care and treatment for viral hepatitis. And more importantly, his example has inspired others to take up the banner of progress towards hepatitis elimination despite difficult circumstances.
Do you know others like Dr. Adjei who are stepping up to lead on viral hepatitis in their country or community? Please nominate them to be a 2023 Coalition for Global Hepatitis “Elimination Champion.”