WHO warns Pacific of hepatitis risk
Five Pacific nations are among nine countries being warned by the World Health Organisation they won't be able to reduce the hepatitis B infection rate in children to less than 2 per cent by next year.
Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Vanuatu have received the warning, with low vaccination coverage largely being blamed.
Presenter: Sonja Heydeman
Speaker: Dr Dong-il Ahn, World Health Organisation's Director of Pacific Technical Support
AHN: These countries the hepatitis B infection has been high to the (inaudible) case and then it's very critical for the government to provide a free vaccinations four rounds for the children, so if free dose of the vaccination is given for age of less than one years, more than 90 per cent of children can be protected life long time, but unfortunately, these countries were not able to provide sufficient vaccine program, so why some other country like Tonga and Fiji, they are going to reach the so-called elimination target. So it is very important through mass campaigns and government programs, children on the one years old are given the three doses of the vaccination, that is the most critical major.
HEYDEMAN: Is there a concern that home births may be part of the problem, that vaccinations are not necessarily given, because women are choosing not to give birth in a hospital setting?
AHN: Yes, and then there's many (inaudible) children are born, then they are supposed to be given the first dose. However, if there are some delays, it will okay so long as the first dose is given, for example, either one month after birth, then those 60 to 70 per cent of babies can be protected. Then on the second or third dose, if they can be given less than one years time, it will be okay. So it is important in the rural areas and the remote areas free vaccination is given and then the community can assist the mothers and new babies to be given the vaccination without too much delay.
HEYDEMAN: It seems that the region accounts for almost half the global incidents for Hepatitis B, while, of course, it only has a third of the population. Why particularly is the Pacific vulnerable to this problem?
AHN: I think the main reason is that the hepatitis b can be, they need to be given through so-called routine immunisation program, meaning governments have to provide those free vaccine programs to all the community members. However, remote areas and small islands sometimes logistic problems, sometimes the community villages not aware of the importance of vaccinations, so the babies are not given the vaccination as needed. So, for example, why in many countries they have reached over 90 per cent of routine vaccine coverage, these remote islands, sometimes around two thirds of babies are given the vaccine, but another one third they are rather neglected. So it is important to reach those marginal people to provide the free vaccine and the free vaccine campaign.
HEYDEMAN: Now there's a government program that's obviously required to provide those vaccinations. But is more required in the area of education?
AHN: Yes, definitely, so that the government could cover the supply side but demand side, it is (reduced) through the school health promotion programs or community awareness campaigns by the village leaders and radios and televisions and using all the possible means. We have to give them a clear message that this vaccine is cheap and very life saving protection, life protection majors so that people have to listen to first, then the supplies and then demand to have this is decreased.http://bit.ly/r68IyN