BACKGROUND: Hepatitis B viral (HBV) infection remains an important public health concern particularly in Africa. Between 1990 and 2013, Hepatitis B mortality increased by 63%. In recent times, effective antiviral agents against HBV such as Nucleos(t)ide analogs (NAs) are available. These drugs are capable of suppressing HBV replication, preventing progression of chronic Hepatitis B to cirrhosis, and reducing the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma and liver-related death. Notwithstanding, these treatments are underused despite their effectiveness in managing Hepatitis B. This study sought to explore barriers to treatment and care for people with Hepatitis B (PWHB) in Ghana, paying particular attention to beliefs about aetiology that can act as a barrier to care for PWHB.
METHODS: We used an exploratory qualitative design with a purposive sampling technique. Face-to-face interviews were conducted for 18 persons with Hepatitis B (PWHB) and 15 healthcare providers (HCP; physicians, nurses, and midwives). In addition, four focus group discussions (FGD) with a composition of eight HCPs in each group were done. Participants were recruited from one tertiary and one regional hospital in Ghana. Data were processed using QSR Nvivo version 10.0 and analysed using the procedure of inductive thematic analysis. Participants were recruited from one tertiary and one regional hospital in Ghana.
RESULTS: Three main cultural beliefs regarding the aetiology of chronic Hepatitis B that act as barriers to care and treatment were identified. These were: (1) the belief that chronic Hepatitis B is a punishment from the gods to those who touch dead bodies without permission from their landlords, (2) the belief that bewitchment contributes to chronic Hepatitis B, and (3) the belief that chronic Hepatitis B is caused by spiritual poison. Furthermore, individual level barriers were identified. These were the absence of chronic Hepatitis B signs and symptoms, perceived efficacy of traditional herbal medicine, and PWHB's perception that formal care does not meet their expectations. Health system-related barriers included high cost of hospital-based care and inadequate Hepatitis B education for patients from HCPs.
CONCLUSION: Given that high cost of hospital based care was considered an important barrier to engagement in care for PWHB, we recommend including the required Hepatitis B laboratory investigations such as viral load, and the recommended treatment in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). Also, we recommend increasing health care providers and PWHB Hepatitis B knowledge and capacity in a culturally sensitive fashion, discuss with patients (1) myths about aetiology and the lack of efficacy of traditional herbal medicines, and (2) patients' expectations of care and the need to monitor even in the absence of symptoms.