Protection from Hepatitis B Begins Before Birth

Approximately 90 percent of newborns who get the virus from their mothers will develop chronic hepatitis B, putting them at risk for liver disease and cancer.

With the right dose of medicine, newborns can avoid a lifetime of liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. That’s why AmeriCares is going door-to-door in the slums of Mumbai, India, educating women about the disease and making sure that their newborns are protected.

In the first year of the project, which is supported by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the AmeriCares India team has counseled hundreds of women in Mumbai’s slum communities. Many residents there are already familiar with the three AmeriCares mobile medical clinics that make regular stops in these communities to deliver primary care. The AmeriCares team moves out through neighborhoods from the mobile clinics to find women of childbearing age.

Reaching mothers-to-be is extremely important: Approximately 90 percent of newborns who get the virus from their mothers will develop chronic hepatitis B, putting them at risk for liver disease and cancer. Even if an infant escapes infection at birth, as many as 25 percent of young children exposed to hepatitis B become infected. Vaccination will protect them for life.

In the slums, the AmeriCares team knocks on doors and asks for a few minutes of a woman’s time; often her mother or sister listens as well. “Most of the women we talk to have never heard of hepatitis B,” says Dr. Kinjal Waghela, associate for partnerships at AmeriCares India. For this two-year project, the team wants to reach approximately 900 pregnant women; to find them, they will canvas a population of 30,000. Team members explain how the virus is transmitted to all women of childbearing age; if a woman is pregnant, the team asks if they can test her for the virus. If a woman has an active infection, the team visits her repeatedly to ensure, as much as possible, that she delivers her baby in a hospital and that her infant receives a vaccination within 12 hours of birth. The mother will also receive counseling and help with her disease management at a public hospital so she doesn’t spread the infection. No matter the status of the mother, every infant should receive three doses of vaccine by six months of age, which provides lifetime protection. The AmeriCares team will follow-up with all of the pregnant women they have counseled.

With each visit by the team, women are thankful to receive tools to protect their children’s health. “We don’t even know about this ailment and you have come and informed us at our doorstep,” says Suman Jadhav, who lives in Ayodhyanagar, a slum area of Mumbai. “We really appreciate it.”