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The Pacific island nations are falling back on immunization targets, especially those for diseases spread through mother-to-child transmission, according to WHO officials.

Po Lin Chan, medical officer at the WHO regional office in an article on SciDev.net, explains that "vaccination has helped reduce prevalence to one percent in the Pacific islands, but reaching 0.1 percent prevalence among children requires additional interventions built on maternal, newborn, and child health programmes, including antenatal screening of pregnant women for hepatitis B alongside that for HIV and syphilis".

WHO's Western Pacific regional office's response to the issue was to add hepatitis B to an existing vaccination programme to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis with a goal of reaching 0.1 per cent prevalence by 2030.

WHO's recommendation is based on China's example. "Since 2010, China has been providing universal testing for each pregnant woman, for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B and modelling suggests that China will achieve the elimination target by 2029," Chan says.

For the Pacific islands, according to the epidemiologist, Caroline Van Gemert from the Burnet Institute of Melbourne, which is involved in the Vanuatu Health Programme, elimination will not be reached even by 2030, unless things change on the ground dramatically. The team presented its work at the World Congress of Epidemiology, held from 03 to 06 September 2021.

WHO guidance recommends administration of drugs such as Tenofovir to pregnant women who are infected, to avoid transmission to their babies.

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Hepatitis B in newborns is a public health issue in the Pacific islands