The World Health Organization pledged on Wednesday to focus on nine Western Pacific Region countries that have faced significant challenges in achieving a 2012 target to reduce hepatitis B infection rates among children.
While most of the countries in the region have likely reduced the infection rates in children to less than two percent, the nine who have not are a result of low vaccination coverage. The nine countries include Vietnam, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Samoa, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Kiribati and Cambodia.
The Western Pacific Region has almost half of the global cases of hepatitis B, while only containing a third of the world's population. The countries in the region have committed to reducing the child infection rates to less than two percent by 2012 and to less than one percent as a future goal.
"Focused, concerted action is essential, especially in the countries in the Region that continue to suffer from high rates of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B virus," Dr. Shin Young-soo, the WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific Region, said.
Hepatitis B infection can be chronic and can lead to liver cancer and cirrhosis. Approximately 25 percent of people with chronic hepatitis B infection die prematurely due to complications.
Hepatitis B can be prevented with an effective and safe vaccine at birth to prevent the virus from passing to newborn infants after exposure to their mother's blood during childbirth. The baby needs to be vaccinated within 24 hours of birth, followed by two other timely vaccine doses later.
“More than 90 percent of countries are now including vaccine against hepatitis B infection in routine childhood immunization programs, giving these babies life-long protection”, Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, said.