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Global Funding to Help Protect Infants from Hepatitis B

China is working side by side with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the Vaccine Fund to help further protect its children against hepatitis B - a disease which kills nearly 1 million people each year in the world.

"Hepatitis B is a global health problem and nearly one-third of these deaths occur in China," said Carol Bellamy, chair of the GAVI board.

The Chinese Government signed an agreement with the GAVI and the Vaccine Fund on Saturday - International Children's Day - with special focus on its 12 poorest provinces and regions.

Through this partnership China will integrate hepatitis B vaccinations - highly effective in preventing the disease - into its routine childhood immunization programmes throughout the country.

Children are currently at high risk of being infected by hepatitis B and many of those who are infected develop liver cancer in adulthood, according to Bellamy, who also serves as executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Liver cancer induced by hepatitis B is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in China.

"While adults get cancer, it is the child that needs to be immunized," said Bellamy.

"Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective and powerful tools to guarantee a child's future health," she added, applauding the Chinese Government in this effort.

The agreement involves funding of US$75 million, of which the Chinese Government and the two organizations will share equally.

The funds will be used to train health workers, provide logistics and support quality communication, supervision and monitoring activities.

They will also be used to provide vaccines and over 500 million disposable syringes - to ensure safe injections.

A boom in China's disposable syringe industry is expected to take place.

Resources from the Vaccine Fund will be used to make sure that infants born in China are immunized against hepatitis B over the next five years.

The GAVI is an alliance of a range of partners including United Nations agencies, governments, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and foundations, as well as the vaccine industry.

The alliance aims to narrow the gap between developed and developing countries and to provide better access to new vaccines, said Bellamy.

"The aim is to reach every child everywhere," she added.

(China Daily June 3, 2002)

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