Every year, 600,000 people die from hepatitis B-related causes, the most serious type of viral hepatitis and a major cause of liver cancer
Geneva, 28 July 2011 - This World Hepatitis Day, we honour Dr Baruch Blumberg, the exuberantly curious scientist who discovered the hepatitis B virus. His work opened the door to a powerful vaccine against hepatitis B, the first vaccine that can prevent liver cancer. Dr Blumberg died last April.
This vaccine has prevented millions of premature deaths from cirrhosis and liver cancer, one of the top three causes of cancer deaths in men, and a major cause of cancer in women. UICC’s World Cancer Declaration states that populations in areas affected by the hepatitis B virus should be covered by universal vaccination programmes by 2020.
Although the hepatitis B vaccine became available in 1982, it was not accessible to developing countries where the burden of disease was highest, largely because of its cost. More than a decade passed before Zimbabwe became the first developing country to use the vaccine for routine immunisation.
Since 2000, the GAVI Alliance has supported the immunisation of 267 million infants against hepatitis B in developing countries and prevented more than 3 million premature deaths. Just over a decade ago, for example, in China’s poorest regions, barely 40% of children were immunised against hepatitis B and approximately 10% were chronic carriers of the disease. Beginning in 2002, GAVI worked with China to provide first-dose hepatitis B vaccines at birth, free of charge to over 25 million newborns. Less than 1% of China’s children under five are now chronic carriers of hepatitis B. And when they grow up, liver cancer is likely to be a rare disease, not a major killer.
Now, a second cancer-preventing vaccine is available against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can prevent 70% of cervical cancer cases. UICC supports GAVI’s efforts to introduce HPV vaccines into developing countries at an affordable price.
In September this year, the United Nations will hold the first global summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). The summit presents an excellent opportunity to highlight the impact of hepatitis B and HPV vaccines in preventing liver and cervical cancer and to call for a united effort to make these vaccines available to developing countries.