SAIPAN, 15 June 2017 — The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – a stretch of 14 islands in the northwest Pacific – may be small, but it is scoring big goals in health. This island chain in political union with the United States of America has just been confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having reduced hepatitis B infection among children to less than 1%.
What is viral hepatitis
Viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by one of the five hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D and E. The five hepatitis viruses are transmitted through different routes: hepatitis A and E through contaminated food and water; hepatitis B through blood and other bodily fluids; hepatitis C and D mostly through blood. These viruses can all cause acute hepatitis. Most people fully recover from acute infection. However, hepatitis B and C infection can lead to chronic liver disease, which is the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Each year, 1.4 million people die from the various forms of viral hepatitis worldwide.
Preventing and treating viral hepatitis
Hepatitis can be prevented by providing safe food and water (hepatitis A and E), through vaccination (hepatitis A, B, D and E), screening of blood donations, provision of sterile injecting equipment (hepatitis B and C) and appropriate infection control. Chronic hepatitis B and C infections can be treated, but most people, especially those living in low- and middle-income countries, do not have access to treatment because of lack of diagnostic and clinical services and high prices of some of the antiviral hepatitis medicines.
Viral hepatitis in the Western Pacific Region
The WHO Western Pacific Region bears a disproportionally high burden of hepatitis compared to other Regions: although it is home to a quarter of the world’s population, it accounts for about 50% of hepatitis B-related deaths worldwide. Of the 130-150 million people worldwide who are chronically infected with hepatitis C, more than 60 million live in this Region. The Western Pacific Region accounts for more than 60% of global liver cancer cases, the majority of which are caused by chronic hepatitis B or C.