The Northern Mariana Islands are a U.S. commonwealth (CNMI) in the Pacific Ocean. It consists of 14 islands with Saipan being the largest.

The World Health Organization announced recently that the island chain has reduced hepatitis B infection among children to less than 1%.

Image/jrvalverde via pixabay
Image/jrvalverde via pixabay

The Northern Mariana Islands have a strong hepatitis B vaccination program which provides babies with their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth, followed by two more doses within the first year of life. Pregnant women are also screened for hepatitis B. Before implementing this aggressive hepatitis B immunization program, the Northern Mariana Islands had a 7% estimated prevalence of chronic infection among 5-year-old children. Immunization against hepatitis B protects children against infection with the hepatitis B virus, which can cause liver disease including liver cancer later in life.

“On behalf of WHO, I wholeheartedly congratulate the Northern Mariana Islands for reaching this important public health milestone,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

“Reducing hepatitis B infection among children to less than 1% means a generation of children virtually free of hepatitis B infection – who will grow up with massively reduced risk of developing diseases like liver cancer later in life,” Dr Shin said.

“The success of CNMI’s immunization program in reducing hepatitis B among children is the result of the commitment and dedication of Mr Sasamoto and his team, with the support of partners,” said Ms Aldan, Director of Public Health, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Hepatitis B is a major global health problem, with nearly 260 million people around the world living with the disease. Nearly 800 000 people die from hepatitis B-related liver disease every year. In the WHO Western Pacific Region – which stretches from Mongolia in the north to New Zealand in the south, and includes 1.9 billion people – 115 million people live with chronic hepatitis B infection, accounting for 45% of infections worldwide.

Hepatitis B is a virus that is transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. It is often transmitted during childbirth. Hepatitis B is known as a “silent killer”, since people with chronic hepatitis B acquire the infection in early childhood and usually do not have symptoms for many years. They are often unaware of the infection until it is too late, when progressive liver disease has already developed, leading to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.