The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and the China Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control (CFHPC) announced the results of a collaborative grassroots education and vaccination program designed to fight the spread of one of China's most pressing health problems -- hepatitis B.
Co-sponsored by both organizations, the China Rural Area Hepatitis B Prevention Education Project has resulted in the education of 2.37 million people living in rural China about hepatitis B, a chronic infection that may lead to liver disease and can result in a death rate of up to 50 percent in Chinese men who are infected with hepatitis B.
Since the program was initiated in 2002, 4,351 health care professionals have been trained on hepatitis B vaccination. In the Chinese counties where the program is focused, 23,000 newborns have been vaccinated, which is an increased rate of 88.2 percent from the 32.7 percent vaccination rate documented before initiation of the project. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the charitable arm of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, presented the results of the successful grassroots program at the 55th American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) conference in Boston, Mass.
When the China Rural Area Hepatitis B Prevention Education Project began, the hepatitis B awareness rate of people living in the Chinese provinces of Shan'xi and Gansu was difficult to measure. Through the efforts of the program, the disease's awareness rate among parents and guardians living in the region is now documented at 87.4 percent. Among health care professionals, hepatitis B awareness has grown from 72.6 percent to 97.1 percent.
"Although an effective vaccine for hepatitis B exists, the vaccination rate in Western China rural communities remains at just 35 percent -- compared with an 85 percent vaccination rate in the cities," said Professor Hui Zhuang, chairman of the China Liver Disease Society and standing council member of the China Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control (CFHPC). "This unfortunate disparity can be attributed to a lack of awareness about the disease among people living in rural China and resources for local health care providers. Through this program, Bristol-Myers Squibb and the CFHPC are making great strides to halt this epidemic and empower the Chinese people to take the necessary actions to prevent the further spread of this devastating disease."
Among the 350 million people worldwide who are chronically infected with hepatitis B, 75 percent reside in Asia. In China, more than 100 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B, a viral infection that may lead to liver disease. The country has the greatest burden of hepatitis B and liver cancer in the world -- and liver cancer is the second-leading cause of death by cancer in China. Chronic hepatitis B is spread in China primarily via mother-to-infant transmission during childbirth and during early childhood close personal contact. The disease severely affects regions in western China.
"The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation's mission is to create meaningful and sustainable improvements for patients living with chronic diseases such as hepatitis B, and as far as possible help prevent further infection," said Anders Hedberg, director, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. "We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with organizations such as the CFHPC to increase education and awareness of chronic hepatitis B among the people living in rural China, physicians and local health care workers. In particular, we take pride in the results achieved and the cooperation model we have set up, which can be easily adapted and replicated in larger populations of rural China in coming years."