Cambodia achieves national and regional goal for reducing hepatitis B in children

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA, 08 June 2018 - JOINT PRESS RELEASE - Cambodia has achieved a landmark public health victory by reducing the prevalence of hepatitis B surface antigen among children to less than 1 percent. Cambodia joins 20 of 37 other countries and areas in the WHO Western Pacific Region that have been verified by an independent panel as having met this goal by 2017.

Hepatitis B is a virus that spreads through blood and other bodily fluids and attacks the liver. It is often transmitted during pregnancy or childbirth. Most babies who are exposed to the virus show no symptoms, but the infection increases their risk of later developing serious problems including cirrhosis and liver cancer by 15%-25%.

Hepatitis B was highly endemic in Cambodia, and most new infections were among babies or young children. Cambodia has made tremendous strides in combating the virus since the hepatitis B vaccine was added into national immunization programme in 2005. Since 2005, the hepatitis B immunization schedule has included a birth dose given within 24 hours, followed by additional doses given at 6 weeks, 10 week and 14 weeks of age.

“With the strong leadership of H.E. Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo HUN SEN, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, achieving national and regional hepatitis B control goal in reducing mortality and morbidity, helping country to achieve Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goal 3” said H.E. Prof. Mam Bunheng, Minister of Health. By now Cambodia has achieved three national and regional immunization goals within three years set by Western Pacific Regional Committee Meeting. These include the eliminations of measles, and maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2015; and the hepatitis B control goal in 2018. H.E Prof. Bunheng expressed his gratitude for the support of all officials, the people of Cambodia, and its development partners for this newly achieved great success.

In 2017, a serosurvey was conducted (blood tests among a nationally representative group of 5-year-olds to measure what proportion are chronically infected with the virus) to evaluate whether the country had achieved the WHO regional target of decreasing hepatitis B prevalence to below 1% among children by 2017. The survey found that the prevalence of hepatitis B among 5-6 year olds in Cambodia is 0.56%. The prevalence of hepatitis B among these children’s mothers was 4.4%, highlighting that major progress has been made throughout Cambodia since these children’s mothers were born before hepatitis B was nationally offered.

Dr. Liu Yunguo, WHO Country Representative in Cambodia, congratulated the Government for its one and a half decades-long efforts towards achieving hepatitis B control goal. He says “hepatitis B control goal is a significant achievement for Cambodia and it proves that vaccination is the most effective preventive measure and maintaining high vaccination coverage can drastically reduce burden of disease and delivers results”.

“Our next steps now would be to strengthen routine immunization systems; keeping the vaccine available at all levels; sustain and increase hepatitis B birth dose coverage; and to wipe out all forms of viral hepatitis—A, B, C, D and E—by 2030” he emphasized.

“Hepatitis is preventable with timely vaccination, starting with the birth dose being given within 24 hours of birth. Cambodia has made great progress in combating hepatitis B infection control, we will continue working closely with Ministry of Health and WHO to ensure a consistent supply of all national immunization programme vaccines and every child is given the opportunity to live a life free of vaccine preventable diseases,” says Ms. Debora Comini, UNICEF Representative in Cambodia.

Hepatitis B is a major global health problem, with nearly 260 million people around the world living with the disease, and nearly 800 000 die from hepatitis B-related liver disease every year. Some 115 million people in the WHO Western Pacific Region have chronic hepatitis B, accounting for 45% of infections worldwide. About 9 in 10 people with chronic hepatitis B do not know they have the infection until liver disease has already developed. This includes mothers who may unknowingly transmit hepatitis B to their newborns. There is available safe and effective vaccine against hepatitis B.