Hep Free Babies

hepatitis free babies, elimination of mother to child transmission of viral hepatitis B

Zero New Hepatitis B infections in newborns

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. 

Viral Hepatitis is responsible for an estimated 1.4 million deaths per year, a toll comparable to that of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Of these deaths, approximately 47% are attributable to HBV yet most people in Africa do not know their hepatitis B status.

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 by 2023 and only 6% of newborns receive a dose hepatitis B vaccine at birth.

To fill in this gap, the Hepatitis Aid Organization (HAO) is running the Hep Free Babies Campaign to strengthen advocacy for the introduction of the hepatitis B birth-dose in Africa. The campaign goal is to increase awareness of the importance of timely hepatitis B birth dose vaccination to the general public and policy makers in Africa. 

Meeting on hepatitis B birth dose introduction in Uganda with the Parliamentary Health Committee in 2022
Hepatitis B birth dose meeting with the Uganda Parliamentary Health Committee in 2022

The Hep Free Babies Campaign was initiated in 2022 and piloted in Uganda in partnership with the Ministry of Health- Uganda, Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination and financial support from the US-CDC.

Through these efforts, Uganda introduced the hepatitis B birth dose vaccination of all newborns as a policy in 2023.