Elimination of Vertical Transmission of Hepatitis B in Africa: A Review of Available Tools and New Opportunities

Clin Ther. 2018 Aug;40(8):1255-1267. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2018.05.016. Epub 2018 Jul 5.


Purpose: This review article focuses on preventing vertical transmission of hepatitis B virus (HBV) among pregnant women living in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where disease is endemic and the estimated maternal HBV seroprevalence is >8%. Available interventions that have been studied in low- and middle-income countries are compared in terms of efficacy and effectiveness in clinical practice. Global disease-elimination targets, barriers to HBV-prevention efforts, and critical research gaps are discussed.

Methods: A PubMed literature search in February 2018 identified relevant studies of interventions to reduce or prevent the transmission of HBV during pregnancy or in the peripartum period. Studies that focused on interventions that are currently available or could be made available in SSA were included. Trials conducted in SSA and other low-income countries were prioritized, although studies of interventions in middle- and high-income countries were included.

Findings: Among 127 studies and reports included in the review, 60 included data from SSA. The most cost-effective intervention to reduce HBV infection rates in SSA is timely birth-dose vaccination followed by completion of the 3-dose infant-vaccination series. The identification and treatment of pregnant women with elevated HBV viral load to further reduce the risk for vertical transmission in SSA show promise, but efficacy and tolerability trials in Africa are lacking.

Implications: Scale-up of currently available tools is required to reach HBV disease-elimination goals in SSA. Many countries in SSA are in the process of rolling out national birth-dose vaccination campaigns; this roll out provides an opportunity to evaluate and improve processes in order to expand coverage. Early antenatal care, promotion of facility deliveries, and increased awareness of HBV prevention are also key components of prevention success. Future studies in SSA should identity an HBV-prevention package that is effective, well tolerated, and feasible and can be administered in the antenatal clinic and tailored to vertical-transmission risk.

Keywords: hepatitis B antiviral therapy; hepatitis B in pregnancy; hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection; sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); vertical HBV transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Capacity Building
  • Female
  • Hepatitis B / diagnosis
  • Hepatitis B / prevention & control*
  • Hepatitis B / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Immunization Programs*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy
  • Prenatal Care
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Vaccination


  • Antiviral Agents