7 Million Deaths Averted through Hepatitis B Vaccination

World Health Organization takes a vital step towards eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030

Vunapope, East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea
WHO/Y. Shimizu

New data shows that hepatitis B vaccination across the Western Pacific has averted 7 million deaths1 that would have occurred among children born between 1990 and 2014. This signifies a tremendous public health achievement for the Region.

This significant achievement represents an important step towards the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat in the Western Pacific Region by 2030. The World Health Assembly in May endorsed the first-ever global targets for viral hepatitis. These call for a 30% reduction in new infections of hepatitis B and C and a 10% reduction in deaths by 2020 and a 90% reduction in new infections and 65% reduction in deaths by 2030.

To guide Member States in addressing the burden of hepatitis, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed the Regional Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis in the Western Pacific 2016–2020 in extensive consultation with experts from Member States. One key component of the regional action plan is testing and treatment targets. WHO’s initial estimates suggest that if these targets are met, by 2020 more than 28 million people living with hepatitis B and more than 5 million people living with hepatitis C will be diagnosed, and nearly 5 million people will have been treated for hepatitis B in the Region, and around 1 million for hepatitis C.

"This regional action plan represents a milestone. Our successful prevention and treatment activities have saved over 7 million lives in this Region. Nevertheless, we must now accelerate our efforts in order to have a Western Pacific Region that is free of new hepatitis infections where people with chronic hepatitis have access to affordable and effective treatment. We call on all Member States to know, treat and prevent hepatitis. We can and will beat it," said Dr Shin Young-soo, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

To support the regional action plan’s ambitious goals, senior officials from eight WHO Member States (Cambodia, China, Hong Kong SAR (China), Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines and Viet Nam) have come together in Hong Kong to discuss how these targets will be reached. This is the first-ever meeting of regional hepatitis programme focal points in high-burden countries following the World Health Assembly endorsement of the hepatitis resolution.

Dr Shin Young-soo also noted, "We now need to build on our success with hepatitis B vaccination. There are new and affordable medicines to treat hepatitis B, and there is now a cure for hepatitis C. These new medicines can prevent liver cancer and reduce deaths from hepatitis-related diseases. There is a clear economic case for investing in treatment to save lives and reduce the impact of hepatitis B and C on health and society, though medicine prices are currently still too high."

The action plan provides a systematic approach to priority areas for action to reduce the impact of viral hepatitis, with a focus on chronic hepatitis B beyond immunization and hepatitis C.

ZeShan Foundation is supporting the WHO to bring together countries of the Region this week to share experiences in implementing hepatitis action to meet the action plan’s ambitious targets. “Recognizing that viral hepatitis is a major public health threat both in greater China and the rest of the world, my siblings and I through our family foundation have made the effective control and eventual elimination of viral hepatitis a strategic focus of our philanthropic commitment,” stated Mr Roy Chen, a director of ZeShan Foundation. “We applaud WHO and national governments for their unwavering commitment and determination to achieve the ambitious goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. We’re very proud to have been a donor and a partner in this effort since 2006."

For further information, please contact:

Mr Eloi Yao
Public Information Officer
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Telephone: +632 528 9992
Email: yaoe@wpro.who.int

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Public Information Office
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@wpro.who.int


Notes to editors

About viral hepatitis

Viral hepatitis is a global public health threat that caused 1.45 million deaths in 2013 alone. The Western Pacific Region has a quarter of the world's population, yet it bears 40% of the global deaths from viral hepatitis. The disease claims more than 1500 lives in the Region every day, outnumbering deaths from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

References

1Eric Wiesen, Sergey Diorditsa & Xi Li, “Progress towards hepatitis B prevention through vaccination in the Western Pacific, 1990–2014,” Vaccine, May 2016 (doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.03.060)

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