To achieve the WHO’s global strategy of eliminating hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, it is essential to ensure adequate understanding of hepatitis B disease to facilitate uptake of screening, linkage to care, and adherence to antiviral therapy. Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest prevalence of HBV infection, yet less than 1% of HBV-infected people have been diagnosed. Lay populations do not widely recognize “hepatitis B.” Hypothesizing that visible signs and symptoms of chronic HBV infection sequelae (jaundice, ascites, or cachexia) might be more easily recognizable, we conducted a qualitative study to determine how rural populations in Senegal understood these sequelae. We led six focus groups and 149 individual interviews with lay populations and formal and informal health workers in three rural study sites in Senegal. Only a third of lay populations (30/105) had ever heard of “hepatitis B,” nor did they evoke local language diagnostic terms resembling this illness. Nevertheless, more than two-thirds (71/105) recognized signs and symptoms of end-stage liver disease but considered these physical manifestations to be a consequence of the manipulation of occult forces. Lay populations also contended that traditional healers, not formal medical structures, should treat such illnesses. Formal and informal health workers had limited knowledge about hepatitis B and difficulties identifying terms in local languages to explain the disease. Communication strategies based on the population’s widespread recognition of the hepatitis sequelae may enhance awareness of hepatitis, which is a crucial element to increase screening uptake, linkage to care, and commitment to lifelong treatment in African communities.
Publication : American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene