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Plan to eliminate infant HepB infection

Tuesday July 28th 2020

A new drive is launched today to end infection of infants with hepatitis B after the success of a 20-year project to cut rates.

Today is World Hepatitis Day and the World Health Organisation marks it by announcing that the world has met a target – set in 2000 – to reduce the infection rate of infants with the virus to 1%.

Its claim is backed by research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK.

New guidance will enable the world to go on to eliminate the problem, WHO said, providing support for countries with the greatest problems to extend vaccination.

WHO's plan also involves testing pregnant women and giving antiviral prophylaxis.

Globally more than 250 million people live with the virus and infants are unlikely to shake it off as they develop.

WHO recommends that babies have their first vaccination within 24 hours of birth – but just 6% of babies in Africa get this and 34% in the eastern Mediterranean region.

WHO admits the COVID-19 pandemic will delay its new programme – and warned that advances could be reversed.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "There is a real risk we could lose the gains we have made.

"Like so many diseases, hepatitis is not just a health problem. It’s an enormous social and economic burden. As we mark 6 months since the declaration of the global health emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic is illustrating that health is not a reward for development, it’s the foundation of social, economic and political stability.

"We are not prisoners of the pandemic. Every single one of us can make a difference. The future is in our hands."

Tags: Africa | Child Health | Flu & Viruses | World Health

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