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Hepatitis B incidence in children falls under 1%, reaching 2020 target

Vaccination can effectively prevent mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B. Source: WHO

A landmark achievement. The incidence of chronic hepatitis B has successfully dropped below 1% in children under five, reaching the 2020 goal set at the 2016 World Health Assembly, said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus on Monday.

1.3 million deaths a year. Hepatitis B and C, the most deadly of the five types of hepatitis disease, currently claim 1.3 million lives a year. Globally, about 325 million people live with hepatitis.

Why it’s important - a morale boost & ‘incredible achievement’. The achievement, announced just ahead of World Hepatitis Day on Tuesday, provides a much-needed boost of morale for the embattled global health community in the wake of this year’s pandemic and its knock-on effects on other disease areas.

“HBV has been a scourge in many countries for so many decades”, said WHO’s Head of Health Emergencies Mike Ryan. “To see incidence [of hepatitis B] less than 1% in children is just incredible.”

“I know it doesn’t sound like it, but we should take these successes because they’re true victories for global health.”

But countries must stay on guard. Despite having achieved a crucial milestone in the fight against hepatitis, Dr Tedros warned that countries must stay on guard. As a result of the pandemic, disruption of essential hepatitis services threatens to claim thousands of additional lives.

According to one estimate, disruption of essential hepatitis services, like vaccination against hepatitis B (HBV), could result in five million additional chronic HBV infections in children born between 2020 and 2030, as well as one million additional HBV-related deaths among those children later on, according to a study by Imperial College London and WHO which has not been published yet.

The “most important” strategy to prevent HBV transmission. Ensuring that children have access to HBV vaccinations is the most important strategy to prevent transmission of the deadly virus from mother-to-child. Said Dr. Tedros:

“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that mothers and their babies have access to life-saving services including hepatitis B vaccinations.”

“Preventing transmission of hepatitis B from mother-to-child and in early childhood is the most important strategy for controlling the disease and saving lives.”

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Source: WHO.

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