New Partnerships to Save the African Child from Hepatitis B Virus Infection
The Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination is excited to announce seven funding awards to civil society organizations from Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania to accelerate the introduction of hepatitis B birth dose in the region.
These organizations include:
- The Hepatitis Aid Organization, Uganda
- The Hepatitis Alliance of Ghana
- Care for Social Welfare International (CASWI), Cameroon
- Health and Rights Education Programme, Malawi
- Maternity Africa and the African Hepatitis B Network for Awareness and Education, Tanzania
- Africa Hepatitis Initiative, Uganda
- Great Lakes Peace Center, Uganda
The need for scaling up hepatitis B birth dose vaccine
Despite the availability of a safe and effective hepatitis B vaccine for more than 30 years, infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) remains a significant cause of disease and death worldwide. Over 296 million people are living with HBV infection, including six million children younger than five years, and about 1.5 million people are newly infected with HBV annually. Africa is disproportionately affected, with four million children younger than five years of age living with HBV infection and 990,000 children newly infected annually. In addition, one in ten deaths due to HBV infection globally occur in Africa. Hepatitis B is a silent disease that progresses over decades to cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer, and premature death. The younger someone is when infected, the greater the chances of lifelong infection; about 90% of babies infected with HBV at birth will develop a lifelong infection.
HBV is mostly transmitted from an infected mother to her child during childbirth through contact with blood and other body fluids. A timely hepatitis B birth dose vaccination (within 24 hours of birth) and completion of the three-dose series of hepatitis B infant vaccine is the most cost-effective way to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HBV. Countries that have introduced the birth dose vaccine and achieved high coverage rates have realized significant reduction in the number of new cases and deaths associated with HBV infection. In Africa, despite the high HBV burden, only 14 of 47 (30%) countries have introduced the birth dose vaccine and only 6% of newborns receive a dose hepatitis B vaccine at birth.
Mobilizing commitment for hepatitis B birth dose through partnerships
Poor knowledge about the importance of timely hepatitis B birth dose vaccination among pregnant women and healthcare workers and the lack of political will among policy makers are some of the barriers to birth dose implementation in Africa. To fill in this gap, the Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination put out a call for proposals in December 2021 for local civil society organizations (CSOs) to develop campaigns to increase awareness of the need birth dose introduction in African countries. The Coalition received 31 applications from 11 countries. Based on standard criteria, the proposals were evaluated by at least three reviewers.
The Coalition made awards to seven CSOs with the highest scores. These organizations will develop information and communication materials and mobilize support for birth dose vaccine. Information and communications materials will be used to educate pregnant women, care givers, healthcare workers and policy makers on the importance of birth dose vaccination. In addition, with technical assistance from the Coalition, the CSOs will offer healthcare worker trainings and arrange meetings with Ministry of Health officials and other policy makers to advocate for birth dose introduction in their countries.
Funding for these awards was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information on this initiative, email globalhep [at] taskforce.org.