Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hepatitis B - so what?

Hep B isn't the most obvious disease to choose. In Australia, we tend to think of it as a blood infection to avoid, but (even in the medical world) aren't really that aware of the consequences. The idea of a "carrier" implies that that person is pretty healthy, really, but not that they are themselves at risk.
  • One in four people chronically infected with hepatitis B will die of liver failure or liver cancer
  • Approximately 278,000 people in our region die from the consequences of hep B per year
  • Babies whose mothers are infected have a 90% chance of contracting hep B
  • A vaccine dose at birth is the best way to prevent lifelong infection 
  • Almost half of the people in the world with chronic hep B infection live in the Western Pacific region (which Australia is in).
Access to the birth dose vaccine, in many settings, can tell us about women's access to skilled birth attendants and the perinatal care system.

In Laos, 80% of women give birth without a skilled attendant. Less than 30% have any antenatal or postnatal care. About one in ten children die before their fifth birthday, although this number is falling. And the total government spending on health care is about US$1.90 per person. Per year.

Laos isn't going to meet the regional hepatitis B control milestone. It's not hard to see why. But in some ways, an international push for one priority can focus attention on others.

If you're interested in reading more, this is the place to do it. For the public health inclined, the paper by Rani has an interesting discussion on the motivations behind setting regional goals.

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