Alarming New Study Highlights Need For Improved Access To HBV Vaccination, Testing And Treatment

Media Contact: Caroline Laurin
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ALEXANDRIA, VA – Data from a new study presented this week at The Liver Meeting Digital Experience® – held by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases – found that in 2019, more than 500,000 persons died of hepatitis B virus infection, highlighting the urgent need for universal HBV vaccination of children beginning at birth, and scaling up testing and access to care and treatment before people with the virus develop life-threatening liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

In 2016, the World Health Organization and member countries pledged to eliminate HBV ─ a serious liver infection transmitted through bodily fluid ─ as a public health threat. This commitment included goals for reducing HBV-related mortality of ten percent by 2020 and 65 percent by 2030. To assess the progress of worldwide HBV elimination efforts, the co-authors of this study tracked overall trends in estimated HBV mortality at the country level for the period of 1990-2019, and specifically, rates from 2015-2019.

"The estimates of hepatitis B mortality are taken from the Global Burden of Disease study, which was conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation to estimate the leading causes of morbidity and mortality from HBV globally, regionally and nationally," says the study’s co-author, Rochelle Obiekwe, a graduate student in epidemiology at the University of Georgia College of Public Health in Athens, Ga. "HBV mortality estimates from the study are of particular importance, as they provide a standard set of data to estimate changes in hepatitis B mortality. And monitor progress towards global hepatitis B elimination goals."

Data from the study found that, in 2019, an estimated 555,487 persons died as a result of HBV related disease. In 2019, the 20 countries with the highest HBV-related death counts made up 81 percent of global HBV-related deaths; mortality declined by 10percent or more in three of these countries. Of the 20 countries, 14 were in Asia. Since 2015, 25 countries have met the 2020 goal of a 10 percent reduction in HBV mortality, however, worldwide rates remain essentially unchanged over the evaluated time periods. Most high-burdened countries experienced increases in hepatitis B-related mortality. Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable and treatable disease. The data reveals an immediate need to scale up hepatitis B vaccination efforts beginning at birth, and HBV testing and treatment worldwide to reach the goal of global elimination, according to the study’s co-authors.

"HBV continues to be a major cause of preventable mortality globally. It has a disproportionate impact on some countries, where HBV is the leading cause of liver cancer and a major cause of cancer deaths. Data from the GBD study can be used to inform political leaders and guide the scale up vaccination, testing and treatment to decrease HBV preventable deaths," says Ms. Obiekwe. "To make data more accessible to national and local stakeholders, the Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination has developed open-access country data dashboards. As IHME looks to the next round of GBD estimation, additional country-level empirical studies will improve precision of their estimates."

Ms. Obiekwe will present these findings at The Liver Meeting Digital Experience™ during Parallel: Hepatitis B: Non-Therapy on Monday, November 16, 2020 at 10:30 AM ET. The corresponding abstract "Country and WHO Regional Trends for Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) Mortality, 1990-2019: An Analysis of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study" can be found in the journal, HEPATOLOGY.

About the AASLD
AASLD is the leading organization of clinicians and researchers committed to preventing and curing liver disease. The work of our members has laid the foundation for the development of drugs used to treat patients with viral hepatitis. Access to care and support of liver disease research are at the center of AASLD’s advocacy efforts.