World Liver Day 2024 campaign targets liver health awareness


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Writes Jacob Ngwenya

World Liver Day, observed on 19 April annually, is dedicated to spreading awareness about liver health and the prevention of liver diseases. The liver, an often underestimated organ, is crucial for maintaining overall health, performing over 500 vital functions in the body. Liver disease poses a significant health and socio-economic burden globally, yet it lacks adequate attention on the global political agenda.

Effective policy interventions can make a significant difference. This year, the focus is on educating people worldwide about the significance of their liver, and the various diseases that can affect it, empowering them with simple yet effective measures to safeguard liver health.

Liver diseases can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background. Chronic liver diseases, including steatotic liver disease (previously known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), HBV (Hepatitis B), and HCV (Hepatitis C), are major contributors to global health challenges. Chronic liver diseases claim millions of lives annually, with 2 million deaths attributed to liver disease each year. 1.5 billion people suffer from chronic liver disease, but the good news is that 90% of these cases are preventable. Simple lifestyle changes, such as following a balanced diet, regular exercise, routine screenings, and vaccination against hepatitis viruses, can significantly reduce the risk of liver diseases.

Liver disease poses a significant health and socio-economic burden globally, yet it lacks adequate attention on the global political agenda. Globally, liver disease is missing in countries’ strategies. It should be included in primary health care plans and services covered by universal health care. Chronic liver diseases develop silently, causing progressive scarring and cirrhosis, ranking second to ischemic heart disease in years of working life lost globally. Increasing health literacy and promoting behavioural changes would reduce the liver disease burden and significantly impact its morbidity and mortality. The stigma surrounding liver diseases, particularly among patients and at-risk populations like people who inject drugs, those with alcohol disorders, or with obesity, creates barriers to early detection and care. Commercial determinants of health, like aggressive marketing of tobacco or alcohol.

At a personal level, you are encouraged this World Liver Day to guard your liver jealously by effecting some lifestyle adjustments which include eating a healthy diet. Get started by adding more healthy foods – fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and protein – to your meals. The second step is to slowly reduce the intake of foods high in sugar, salt, and trans fats. High intake of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Low intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice, red and processed meat, trans fat, and sodium. Get a few workouts every day. Find an activity that you enjoy and gets your heart pumping. Whether it’s cycling, kayaking, or doing yoga on your lunch break – the important thing is to find small, consistent ways to move and sweat.

Be aware of the risks of alcohol consumption. Alcohol causes 7 types of cancers. For cancer risk, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. Alcohol also causes almost half of all deaths due to liver disease as well as many other harms. It is safest not to consume alcohol, and if you do, consume it in small amounts and avoid binge drinking. Check your liver’s health regularly. One of the most important preventative measures for liver disease is to ask your doctor to screen your liver regularly. That way, if something is wrong, you can catch it early and get it treated with much guarantee of a favourable treatment outcome.

On this World Liver Day, people living with NCDs in Zimbabwe under the banner of Beat NCDs Zimbabwe are calling for the whole of society approach to preserve liver health. They call upon the Government of Zimbabwe to implement policy interventions for liver health. These policies should package a full continuum of liver health care ranging from health promotion, prevention, early diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care. At the same time, individual action is needed to make a substantial difference, as liver health is of paramount importance which calls for a shift from the business-as-usual approach but standing up and implementing precautions that will reduce liver health morbidity and mortality.