Our Woman crush this week is Olubunmi Daramaja, a woman who has is on a mission to eliminate Hepatitis with her non-profit organization, the WAHA Initiative.
In this interview, she shares with us why she chose this mission…
Can you give us a brief insight into your background?
I attended St. Teresa’s College in Ibadan, and Northeastern University College of Pharmacy in Boston, Massachusetts. I have been a pharmacist for twenty six years, and I have experience in retail pharmacy, hospitals, pharmaceuticals medical information, immunization, medication therapy management, and patient outreach.
What is the WAHA Initiative?
WAHA Initiative stands for West African Health Assistance Initiative. We are a nonprofit organization committed to the elimination of viral hepatitis and hepatitis related diseases through awareness, advocacy and assistance. It was founded in October 28, 2016.
Can you give us a brief insight into the Hepatitis disease?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. There most common types of hepatitis are: Viral Hepatitis (Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E), Autoimmune Hepatitis and Alcoholic Hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is the most common hepatitis in the world and the leading cause of liver cancer.
Why did you choose to focus on Hepatitis?
The World Health Organization stated that approximately over 300million people worldwide are chronically infected with Hepatitis B and C. Most people with Hepatitis B and C don’t even know they have it. This is a disease called the silent killer; you can have it for years and not know until you develop liver cancer and it’s too late to treat.
Hepatitis B is highly prevalent in the sub-Sahara region of Africa. It is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus during activities: from birth through an infected mother, sex with an infected partner, sharing needles/syringes/drug injection equipment, sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person, direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person, and exposure to blood from needle sticks or other sharp instruments.
I lost both my dad (at 65 years old) and brother (at 35 years old) from Hepatitis B. My sister and I, with two other friends of ours, decided to do everything within our power to spread the awareness through advocacy, health education and helping those aﬀected to find help for treatment. We don’t want anyone to end up like my dad and brother.
What can be done to increase awareness about hepatitis in Nigeria?
WAHA and HCA are working tirelessly to increase the awareness of hepatitis in Nigeria and US through education, advocacy and assistance by using advocates, volunteers, staﬀs and sponsors. Our advocates like me, go everywhere to speak and educated people the importance of being tested, vaccinated and treated for hepatitis. We are developing a program that will link people to care. We have spoken on OGTV (Ogun State Television) and radio stations in Ibadan.
What can be done to reduce the infection of Hepatitis, particularly by women in Nigeria?
About 20,000,000 Nigerians are chronically infected with Hepatitis B. A lot of these infections were from mother to child transmission during birth. In order to reduce the infection of hepatitis, everyone in Nigeria who has not been tested should get tested to know their hepatitis status; this is when reduction of hepatitis can start to occur. By knowing the status, one will be able to know the next line management. As always, safe practices are generally the best to reduce infection. We will appreciate and be thankful to anyone who can donate financially or pay for a test or vaccination for at least one person in order to save a life.
What has your experience been running a non-profit organization?
It has not been easy, especially being a new foundation. Also there are challenges of finding volunteers who are dependable and dedicated to helping others without first looking for we can do for them. WAHA and HCA (HealthCare Assistance initiative) work together now; WAHA is based in the U.S. and HCA is based in Nigeria. I, being the founder of WAHA, have been to the US Congress to speak to their congressional staﬀ on the eﬀect of Hepatitis B in Africa. I also engaged the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) advisory committee to facilitate the approval of the new Hepatitis B vaccine, HEPLISAV-B.
What are some of the unique challenges you face running this WAHA Initiative and how do you think they can be overcome?
One of the challenges is storing the vaccines. We need dependable institutions/ private hospitals, which are able to store the vaccines in the refrigerator with 24 hours electricity. I believe that we can overcome this through donations of converters for electricity. We also need some medical doctors who are willing to give up a couple of hours of their time Pro Bono for the care of the needy.
How can people be part of WAHA Initiative?
There is nothing more rewarding than being able to help people who need help. The non-profit organizations (WAHA/ HCA) are open to people who are willing and able to help the cause. The organizations are looking for volunteers in all aspect including but not limited to healthcare professionals, medical doctors, media relations, marketing, students, etc. The organizations also appreciate sponsors who believe in our cause – that no one should die from a disease that is very preventable – and are willing to be part of the foundation.
Find out more about WAHA.
Follow Olubunmi Daramaja
Twitter – @daramaja
Photo Credit: Olofa Photography