There’s a disease that 240 000 000 people are living with, 780 000 people are dying from per year, and currently there’s no cure. This is the reality of Hepatitis B today, a disease that is endemic to continents.
Similar to a number of the world’s worst ailments it’s viral, and almost impossible to be rid of once the infection has taken hold. This unfortunately leads to large numbers of chronic sufferers, each of which are capable of transmitting the virus, which can easily lead to the problem spiraling outwards. This can happen to such a degree that it’s estimated up to 10% of the adult population of sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia are afflicted.
While adults mature immune systems are somewhat capable of warding the away the virus, babies and infants are subject to the worst degree. It has been estimated that while 5-10% of adult infections progress to the chronic stage, around 90% of infants exposed will develop chronic hepatitis.
All this begs the question of what can be done. It should be no surprise that chronic incurable conditions don’t just disappear, but often require a lifetime of antivirals. This ends up being prohibitively expensive, and doubly infeasible when poor healthcare infrastructure is factored in.
However there is an effective vaccine, with three doses providing effective lifetime immunity in around 95% of cases. Due to the vulnerable period during infancy, the WHO aims to have all children under 1 year of age immunized. This has the capability to be a success story on the level of smallpox or polio, but as in many cases in global health, the devil is in the distribution.
Data from the WHO Data Repository for the year 2014, showing countries with < 75%
Ultimately it’s a case where we have an effective solution, but more funding, awareness, and effort is needed to consign it to history. Fortunately there are initiatives occurring, thanks once more to organizations like the WHO, World Hepatitis Alliance, and Hepatitis B Foundation. Collectively it’s thought that Hepatitis B may be eradicated by 2030, a deadline that seems feasible.