An immunisation programme partly funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has reduced levels of hepatitis B infection in 10 Pacific Island countries by 81 per cent.
A report showed all participating countries had benefited from the programme, said New Zealand public health physician Dr Nick Wilson. The project was developed by Unicef and began in 1994 in conjunction with the Australian Agency for International Development.
The Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu took part. Dr Wilson said many Pacific Island countries had incorporated hepatitis B vaccinations into childhood immunisation schedules in the early 1990s but the vaccine supply was often inadequate.
The implications of the study were huge, he said.
"While hepatitis B infection in childhood does not usually cause illness, it is contagious and often leads to potentially fatal diseases.
"A quarter of Pacific people with chronic hepatitis B infection are likely to develop cirrhosis or liver cancer later in life, often leading to premature death. Over time the immunisation programme will reduce such deaths significantly."