China's dramatic fall in hepatitis B infections

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GAVI co-funds immunisation against hepatitis B in the remote west and central provinces of China

Just over a decade ago, barely 40% of children in China’s poorest areas were immunised against hepatitis B (hepB).

Approximately 10% of China’s population were chronic carriers of the disease, which is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year in China due to liver cancer and cirrhosis.

In 2002, GAVI, the Government of China and the China Centre for Disease Control (CDC) started a partnership that lasted until December 2010 to combat the disease.

Formidable challenges

The collaboration provided first-dose hepB vaccines at birth free of charge to over 25 million newborns in the poorest and most remote provinces of western and central China. But health authorities faced formidable challenges, recalls Dr Liang Xiao Feng, Director of the National Immunisation Programme at the China CDC.

Immunising babies at birth was difficult as women in remote areas mostly gave birth at home. Raising public awareness of the value of immunisation and encouraging mothers to deliver in hospitals was therefore important.

The vaccination effort against hepatitis B, especially to protect newborns, will not stop.

Dr Yang Wei Zhong, Deputy Director General of the China CDC

Catalytic impact

Demonstrating the catalytic impact of GAVI’s support, the Chinese Government decided to introduce the vaccine into its routine immunisation programme in 2005.

Since the start of the project, the percentage of newborn children immunised with the first dose at birth has climbed from 64% to over 90% in most areas. Less than 1% of children under 5 are now chronic carriers of hepB.

Model of success

“The vaccination effort against hepB, especially to protect newborns, will not stop,” says Dr Yang Wei Zhong, Deputy Director General of the China CDC. 

 “The success of the introduction of hepatitis B vaccine is a model, showing us what we need to do and what can happen as we embark on efforts to introduce important new vaccines against pneumonia, diarrhoea and cervical cancer," says Dr Mark Kane, a GAVI Alliance founding Board member:

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11 million

Gavi support had contributed to immunising 11 million children against pneumococcal disease by the end of 2013.

WHO/UNICEF

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