Publication Date: Tuesday, March 31, 2020
O'Hara G, Mokaya J, Hau JP, Downs LO, McNaughton AL, Karabarinde A, Asiki G, Seeley J, Matthews PC, Newton R.

Liver disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, but its prevalence, distribution and aetiology have not been well characterised. We therefore set out to examine liver function tests (LFTs) and liver fibrosis scores in a rural African population.

We undertook a cross-sectional survey of LFTs. We classified abnormal LFTs based on reference ranges set in America and in Africa. We derived fibrosis scores (aspartate aminotransferase (AST) to Platelet Ratio Index (APRI), fibrosis-4, gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) to platelet ratio (GPR), red cell distribution width to platelet ratio and S-index). We collected information about alcohol intake, and infection with HIV, hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV).

We studied a population cohort in South-Western Uganda.

Data were available for 8099 adults (median age 30 years; 56% female).

The prevalence of HBV, HCV and HIV infection was 3%, 0.2% and 8%, respectively. The prevalence of abnormal LFTs was higher based on the American reference range compared with the African reference range (eg, for AST 13% vs 3%, respectively). Elevated AST/ALT ratio was significantly associated with self-reported alcohol consumption (p<0.001), and the overall prevalence of AST/ALT ratio >2 was 11% (suggesting alcoholic hepatitis). The highest prevalence of fibrosis was predicted by the GPR score, with 24% of the population falling above the threshold for fibrosis. There was an association between the presence of HIV or HBV and raised GPR (p=0.005) and S-index (p<0.001). By multivariate analysis, elevated LFTs and fibrosis scores were most consistently associated with older age, male sex, being under-weight, HIV or HBV infection and alcohol consumption.

Further work is required to determine normal reference ranges for LFTs in this setting, to evaluate the specificity and sensitivity of fibrosis scores and to determine the aetiology of liver disease.

Publisher: BMJ Open