Hepatitis B and C are liver infections caused by viruses. Hepatitis B is very contagious and is transmitted mother-to-child, by sexual means, and through blood (transfusions, injuries to healthcare personnel, injections with unclean needles, scarification, etc.). It is estimated that 5% of the world population (350 million people) is infected with hepatitis B. Hepatitis B affects 10% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hepatitis C affects 170 million people and is primarily transmitted by blood.
Hepatitis B can cause fulminant hepatitis leading to death, but the two forms of hepatitis are particularly responsible for chronic liver infection, occurring in 25% of people infected with hepatitis B and 90% of people with hepatitis C. They also cause cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis B is the leading cause of cirrhosis worldwide, well ahead of alcohol consumption. The complications from hepatitis B and C are estimated to be responsible for more than a million deaths each year from cirrhosis and liver cancer, with 70% of deaths linked to hepatitis B and 30% linked to hepatitis C.
There is a vaccine that effectively protects against hepatitis B, particularly in newborns of mothers with hepatitis B, and medications to treat infected people. The vaccine must be administered from birth to effectively protect newborns, but this strategy is under-applied. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but effective treatments that can cure the majority of infected people have recently been developed. However, they are not widely available, for the time being, due to prohibitive costs.
Passage into the chronic form, with the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer, is more frequent when the disease is contracted at birth or as a young child. Preventing the transmission of hepatitis B from mother to child is a priority for Solthis. We hope to improve vaccination, particularly in Sierra Leone, and to develop a strategy linking antiviral treatment in the mother with vaccination for the newborn, particularly in Mali.