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Conference Tackles Hepatitis B And Measles

8 March, 2004
Media Release

Conference tackles Hepatitis B and Measles

Strategies to combat killer diseases are high on the agenda of a meeting in Auckland this week. (8th - 12th March)

More than a third of the world's hepatitis B carriers live in the West Pacific region despite only a quarter of the world's population being here. The disease, which can lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer, is also responsible for around half of the region's preventable deaths. New Zealand was one of the first countries to offer the hepatitis B vaccine to all infants in 1988.

Measles remains the leading cause of vaccine preventable deaths among children throughout the world despite the burden of disease being reduced through immunization. Measles vaccine was introduced in New Zealand in 1969, and the last epidemic in New Zealand occurred in 1997; a successful immunisation campaign limited its extent. The potential exists for further epidemics, as MMR vaccine coverage in New Zealand is inadequate to eliminate measles.

Both these diseases are easily prevented by vaccination, and improved control through higher immunisation levels is an important issue in both New Zealand and other West Pacific countries.

Control strategies for measles elimination and hepatitis B control as well as other vaccine preventable diseases will be debated by Pacific immunisation managers, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) at the workshop. National immunisation managers of Pacific countries represented at the forum will be asked to examine how their countries can work towards these objectives and further support their national immunisation programmes.

The workshop which starts today (8th March) in Auckland is the 5th regional meeting. It is hosted by the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

Since the establishment of the Extended Programme on Immunisation programme in the Pacific Region over 20 years ago, there have been considerable achievements that have improved the health and well being of Pacific populations These achievements include the

1. Eradication of polio. The Western Pacific Region was declared polio-free in 2000.

2. Interruption of measles outbreaks. The most recent outbreak in the Marshall Islands, in 2003 was controlled by a vaccination campaign

3. High routine immunisation coverage for most Pacific countries.

Vaccination has protected many New Zealanders from the devastating effects of disease such as measles and hepatitis. However, there are those within our communities who still live with the consequence of these and other diseases.

The meeting concludes on Friday.


From 1998-2002 approximately 2.8 Million vaccinations were given to children in New Zealand.

What does EPI-WPRO mean?

Extended programme on immunisation, Western Pacific Regional Offices of the World Health Organisation.

When does the workshop take place?

From 8th - 12th March 2004.

Why is this meeting in Auckland?

Meetings have historically been held in Fiji. This meeting is being held in Auckland and hosted by the New Zealand Ministry of Health. New Zealand has traditionally participated as an observer at these meetings. New Zealand offered to host the meeting because of recognition of the importance of immunisation in the Pacific for New Zealand.

What are the achievements of the EPI programme?

1. · Eradication of Polio in the Western Pacific region
2. · Interruption of measles transmission since 1998. The most recent outbreak in the Marshall Islands, in 2003 was controlled by a vaccination campaign.
3. · High routine immunisation coverage for most Pacific Countries
4. · Inclusion and full integration of hepatitis B in all the island's immunisation programmes
5. · Transition from donor-dependence to vaccine self sufficiency for the countries immunisation programmes, assisted through the Vaccination Independence Initiative, set up with financial support from Australia, Japan and New Zealand.

How many people die from the consequences in hepatitis B disease?

800 people die every day in the Western Pacific Region from the consequences of Hepatitis B infection

How long has hepatitis b vaccine been available?

The vaccine has been available since 1982.

Is hepatitis b vaccine included on every national immunisation programme?

In 2001, the Western Pacific Region was the first of the WHO regions where hepatitis b vaccine was included in every National Immunisation Programme.

The Regional committee of the WHO Western Pacific Region passed a resolution in 2003 to improve hepatitis b control within the region.

How many people would die if there were no measles immunisation programme?

Each year in the region there would be about half a million deaths from measles in addition to brain damage and blindness from infection. In the Western Pacific region it is estimated that immunisation has reduced the number of deaths by 95%.

To prevent a measles epidemic what proportion of the population need to be immunised?

The potential exists for further epidemics unless at least 95% of the population receives two doses of the measles-containing vaccine.


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