By the late 1990s, the hepatitis B vaccine had been on the market for two decades, but was not reaching enough developing countries
Vaccinating against hepatitis B is an important investment in a country's future. The hepatitis B virus is the leading cause of liver cancer and is 50 times more infectious than HIV. While infections occur mostly in young children, the deadly consequences of the virus usually strike later in life as liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
An estimated 240 million people worldwide are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus, which claims approximately 700,000 lives every year due to acute or chronic liver disease.
Transmission of the virus from mother to newborn infant is a major contribution to disease in regions such as Asia and the Pacific Rim, where infection is widespread. The majority of cases could be avoided through vaccination. The vaccine is 95% effective in preventing infection and the development of chronic disease and liver cancer due to hepatitis B.
HEPATITIS B CLAIMING 900,000 LIVES IN 2000
By the late 1990s, the hepatitis B vaccine was taking longer than the average 15 years usually required for a new vaccine to reach large numbers of the world's poorest children.
Hepatitis B vaccines had become available in 1982, with Italy becoming the first high-income country to introduce the vaccine into its national immunisation programme only a year later.
Yet it was only in 1985 that Zimbabwe became the first developing country to follow WHO's 1992 recommendation that childhood hepatitis B vaccination be included in all immunisation programmes
By 2000, the infection was claiming an estimated 900,000 lives each year, most of them in developing countries. Yet only 22 low-income countries had access to the hepatitis B-containing vaccine.