Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Hepatitis B control by 2012 in the WHO Western Pacific Region: rationale and implications

Manju Rani, Baoping Yang & Richard Nesbit

In 2005, the WHO Western Pacific Region adopted the hepatitis B control goal of reducing the hepatitis B surface antigen seroprevalence in children at least 5 years of age to less than 2% by 2012. Universal infant immunization with three doses of hepatitis B vaccine, including a timely birth dose, is the key recommended strategy. Measuring seroprevalence in children at least 5 years of age takes into account the period when the risk of acquiring a chronic infection is highest and provides an indicator that can be monitored in the short term, within 5 years of vaccine introduction, and which correlates strongly with the long-term consequences of hepatitis B.

A time-bound supranational hepatitis B control goal was chosen to create a sense of political urgency for strengthening routine immunization services and improving access to delivery care as well as providing resources for hepatitis B vaccination. Consequently, the programme strategies selected are not stand-alone but also contribute to strengthening health systems. Independent certification of achievement of the control goal, hitherto used mainly for eradication goals, is planned for all countries.

Early assessment showed that adopting the regional goal led to greater political commitment, with reduced inequalities in hepatitis B vaccination between and within countries. Previous declining trends in routine immunization coverage also show signs of reversal and there is major progress in providing timely birth doses. A similar approach may be relevant to countries in Africa and South Asia, that have a high hepatitis B disease burden faltering routine immunization and poor access to skilled delivery care.