Regional Immunization Week 2014
The countries and areas in the WHO Western Pacific Region are getting ready to observe the Regional Immunization Week from 21 to 27 April 2014.
The Region has been participating and celebrating the World Immunization Week since 2011 and this activity has been observed simultaneously in WHO’s six regions since 2012. The main objective of the week is to promote the immunization programme in order to protect more people and their communities from vaccine-preventable diseases.
This year, the Western Pacific Region adopted the theme of preventing liver cancer through hepatitis B vaccination with the slogan: "Stop hepatitis B and liver cancer. Vaccinate at birth."
Rationale for theme
This year's Regional Immunization Week theme is focused on hepatitis B birth dose vaccination. The theme was chosen to capitalize on the momentum of hepatitis B control including the achievement of the 2012 milestone of less than 2% hepatitis B prevalence among five-year old children, the verification of 11 countries as having reached the goal of less than 1% prevalence among children, and the adoption by the Regional Committee Meeting of the target year of 2017 for achieving the goal. While great progress has been made in controlling hepatitis B, major challenges remain and this is the time to ramp up the communication and advocacy to increase awareness and commitment to controlling hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is known as a "silent killer" because infection is usually asymptomatic for several decades before leading to liver disease. In most countries of the Western Pacific Region, prevalence of hepatitis B chronic infection among adults is quite high (7-12%), yet screening rates are low and most people who are infected do not know it. Babies who are born to hepatitis B infected mothers are at risk of acquiring hepatitis B infection. Contracting hepatitis B at birth has the highest likelihood of leading to a chronic infection (90%) and is, therefore, the most important form of transmission to prevent. In the absence of a timely birth dose vaccination, there is a strong probability that a baby born to an HBsAg positive mother will become infected (especially if she has a high viral load). The best method of preventing mother-to-child transmission during childbirth is to ensure that all newborns receive the hepatitis B birth dose within 24 hours of birth.
While liver cancer is a major cause of death in the Western Pacific Region, and hepatitis B infection is the major cause of liver cancer, the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer is not well understood. By focusing on hepatitis B prevention as a means of stopping liver cancer, the goal is to bring the problem of hepatitis B as a cause of cancer to the forefront, and increase attention on the need for a timely birth dose to protect newborns from developing liver cancer later in life. This message is important for the general public, pregnant women, healthcare workers, public health workers and decision makers.
The target coverage for the timely birth dose vaccination is 95%. Achieving this target requires intense efforts, especially in areas with low rates of deliveries attended by skilled birth attendants who could administer the vaccine. Overall birth dose coverage has been increasing in the region and reached 76% in 2012, however, several countries still have very low birth dose coverage and major challenges, including increasing awareness of the need for the birth dose, increasing deliveries attended by skilled birth attendants, and ensuring vaccine availability are needed to achieve the birth dose vaccination targets.
A variety of activities are planned during the Regional Immunization Week including national and local launching ceremonies; educational programmes for health workers, parents and child caregivers; awareness campaigns; advocacy; mass communication; vaccination session/campaign; training/workshop; and publicity in media.