News

Australian institutions centre stage in fight to control hepatitis B

Tracy Parish

29 March, 2011

Saving lives begins on Day 1 with birth-dose hepatitis B vaccinations.

Vaccinating a baby in the first 24 hours of life against hepatitis B is potentially lifesaving, yet millions of children in resource-poor countries are still missing out.

The Burnet Institute has joined a number of institutions and experts (Australian and international) to endorse the ‘Melbourne Statement’ - a call for the consideration of all available strategies to prevent hepatitis B transmission to newborns.

The ‘Melbourne Statement’ is in reaction to the need to scale up hepatitis B vaccination efforts in many countries, and emerged during the World Health Organisation (WHO) Consultation in Melbourne in December 2010.

The birth dose vaccine against hepatitis B has been in use in Australia for some time, but in 2010 the World Health Assembly recommended making this available to every newborn in every country.

Deputy Director of the Burnet Institute, Associate Professor David Anderson said “getting 100 percent of babies vaccinated within 24 hours of birth will be a major challenge for many countries.”

“World Hepatitis Day on 28 July gives us a chance to focus global attention on the new technologies and systems needed to reach those babies who are currently missing out.”

Burnet’s Dr Chris Morgan, who was a co-signatory to the Melbourne Statement along with colleague Dr Tony Stewart, said the need was urgent given that two billion people have been infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and it remains the predominant cause of primary liver cancer.

“Saving lives begins on Day 1,” Dr Morgan said.

“In May 2010, the World Health Assembly agreed that all babies should have access to the first dose of vaccine in the first 24 hours after of life, when it is most effective.

“This also drives health staff to reach mothers and babies with other life-saving care at the time of life when they are most vulnerable.”

Following a unanimous resolution of the World Health Assembly last year, the WHO is developing a strategy to support all countries to improve the control of hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B vaccine - the world’s first anti-cancer vaccine - is inexpensive, very safe and highly effective. Universal vaccination in countries with a significant burden of hepatitis B infection is cost saving to society and has already prevented millions of hepatitis B infections and future deaths due to liver failure and cancer. Across the world, liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer, and the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths, mostly in developing countries.

Among the Australian institutions to sign the ‘Melbourne Statement’ includes: the Burnet Institute, Hepatitis Australia, the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, and the Nossal Institute for Global Health. The Women’s and Children’s Health Knowledge Hub, funded by AusAID, also contributed significant support to this program.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Tracy Parish

Executive General Manager, Marketing and Communications

Telephone

+61385062321

Email

tracy.parish@burnet.edu.au

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