Partnering to Prevent Hepatitis B
by Michael J. Nyenhuis, President, Medical Assistance Programs (MAP) International
The children waited in long lines outside the school building in Quito, Ecuador, many with their shirt sleeves already rolled up in anticipation of their hepatitis B vaccination. None of them seemed especially enthusiastic about the endeavor, however, and many of them cringed when it was their turn.
It wasnâ€™t exactly the break from class that many of these elementary school children had hoped for. But it was one that they desperately needed.
Hepatitis B remains a major global health threat especially in the developing world, where many people become infected with the virus during childhood. In these regions, liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus are some of the leading causes of death, killing more than 1 million people each year. Infected persons may also suffer from symptoms such as jaundice, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
The World Health Organization has said it is imperative that children be vaccinated. However, in the poorest countries, governments with limited resources are often unable to introduce the vaccination, especially in remote locations. Yet it is in these countries that the vaccines are most needed.
Fortunately, relief and development agencies are taking tremendous steps toward combating hepatitis B in the developing world. And those efforts are often enabled through cooperative partnerships with socially responsible corporations.
MAP International has embraced this partnership model for more than 50 years and is using it to address the prevalence of hepatitis B. Working with the global pharmaceutical corporation Merck & Co., Inc., MAP has provided vaccinations for hundreds of thousands of children and adults alike across the globe. In Ecuador alone, Merck has provided more than 50,000 pediatric doses of their hepatitis B vaccine RECOMBIVAX HBÂ®, which MAP has distributed to health teams working in Ecuadorâ€™s schools.
Such partnerships are vital to MAPâ€™s overall mission to provide essential medicines, promote community health development and prevent and mitigate disease, disaster and other health threats. In 2007, more than 65 pharmaceutical companies provided MAP with more than $385 million (wholesale value) in medicines and medical supplies, which MAP distributed to more then 115 countries affected by war, poverty, disease and natural disaster.
In addition to Ecuador, Merck and MAP International have provided vaccinations against hepatitis B for people in countries such as Honduras, Peru and Haiti. Since 2003, Merck has also donated more than 134,000 doses of their hepatitis B vaccine for the people of the Philippines, which has one of the highest infection rates of hepatitis B in Asia.
Since 1991, when the World Health Organization first called for all countries to add hepatitis B vaccinations to their national immunization programs, 116 countries have done so. The challenge, however, remains in making such vaccines a viable reality for the millions of children waiting for them. Fostering new partnerships, and sustaining those already established between nonprofit organizations and responsible corporations, is one way we can meet that challenge.