n South African Medical Journal - Preventing hepatitis B and hepatocellular carcinoma in South Africa : the case for a birth-dose vaccine : forum - issues in medicine

Volume 104, Issue 9
  • ISSN : 0256-9574
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5135



Hepatitis B is a global public health issue, with some 2 billion people having current or past infection. In Africa, 65 million are chronically infected, an estimated 2.5 million of them in South Africa (SA). Hepatitis B and the associated complications of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma are entirely vaccine preventable. SA was one of the first ten countries in Africa to introduce universal hepatitis B vaccination in April 1995, but has no birth dose or catch-up programme. Although universal infant vaccination in SA has been successful in increasing population immunity to hepatitis B, improvements in terms of implementing protocols to screen all pregnant mothers for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and ensuring full hepatitis B coverage, especially in rural areas, is required. The World Health Organization has recommended a birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine in addition to the existing hepatitis B vaccine schedule in order to further decrease the risk of perinatal transmission. We recommend that SA implement a birth-dose vaccine into the existing schedule to attenuate the risk of perinatal transmission, prevent breakthrough infections and decrease HBsAg carriage in babies born to HIV-positive mothers.

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