Press Release WHO/81
6 November 1998
ELTON JOHN GIVES DONATION
EMBARGO: 7 NOV 1998 22.00 CET
TO WHO TO FIGHT HEPATITIS B
Rock star Sir Elton John today gave a large donation to the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight Hepatitis B. Proceeds from the Geneva concert and a charity auction will be used to purchase Hepatitis B vaccine for developing countries and raise awareness of this major disease.
At a brief ceremony, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, thanked Sir Elton "on behalf of the World Health Organization and the children who will benefit from this donation".
"One of the most effective and safe vaccines that has ever been developed could virtually eliminate this disease if children everywhere were immunized", said Dr Brundtland. "The World Health Organization cannot do this alone. Among the most powerful partnerships we can establish are those with individuals who through their art delight us and inspire us to a better world. There are few artists the equal of Sir Elton John in any regard and even fewer still in the area of their generosity".
In his letter, distributed at the concert, Elton John says: "Hepatitis B is a disease with many similarities to HIV/AIDS. They are both highly infectious, placing us all at risk whether we live in the developing or industrialized world. They are both transmitted by blood, sexual contact, or by contaminated needles. And they both cause death many years after the infection".
Unlike HIV/AIDS, the hepatitis B virus can spread from child to child in households, and this is a major way the virus gets transmitted in developing countries.
Out of 2000 million people worldwide who have been infected, most have recovered but more than 350 million are chronic carriers of the virus. It is estimated that more than 70 million of these carriers will die from cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer as a result of this infection.
However, great progress is being made in the control of this disease. Since 1991, WHO has been promoting the use of Hepatitis B vaccine as part of national immunization programmes in all countries, thus making it the seventh universal vaccine used by the WHO Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in its fight against major childhood diseases. EPI's goal is an 80% reduction of the incidence of Hepatitis B in children by the year 2001. In 1997 alone, vaccination efforts helped to prevent 2,4 million children worldwide contracting the dreaded disease.
Back in 1991, only 20 countries around the world were using Hepatitis B vaccine. This year, 100 countries were reporting to WHO the use of Hepatitis B as routine part of their national immunization efforts. One of the main reasons for the dramatic increase is a sharp fall of the vaccine price for developing countries. When originally introduced, the vaccine cost almost US$20 per dose. Today, it is down to 50-60 US cents per dose for use in developing countries. It still costs more than other EPI vaccines but then it is the first vaccine against a major human cancer (of the liver).
A lot has been achieved in the course of mere seven years but the progress has been uneven. While there are only five countries in the WHO Western Pacific Region which do not use the vaccine, there are only five in sub-Saharan Africa which do.
"A major stumbling block for the global efforts to control Hepatitis B is the fact that the financing for the poorest countries in Asia and Africa hasn't materialized," says Dr Mark Kane of the WHO Expanded Programme on Immunization. "We are very grateful to Elton John in giving us a hand to raise awareness of this unmet need. The poorest countries of the world cannot afford this vaccine and their children are left unprotected. This is medically and morally unacceptable. We do need the help of all of our partners in making the vaccine available to all children in the world, regardless of their socio-economic level".
For further information, journalists can contact Mr Valery Abramov, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (+41 22) 791 25 43; Fax (+41 22 ) 791 48 58. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other informationon this subject can be obtained on the Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int/