Africa is suffering from one of the highest percentages of adults infected with Hepatitis B, or HBV. About 6.1% of adults are infected, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The disease, which is spread from person to person through fluid exchange, can have devastating effects on the liver, causing cancer and even death. Unfortunately, the poorest regions of Africa are the most susceptible to those consequences, as they lack the funds and facilities to accurately diagnose and treat chronic hepatitis B. Luckily, that may be about to change.
A Simple and Affordable Development
Researchers at Imperial College London and Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia (including collaborations from the Pasteur Institute in Paris and other African and European countries) have developed a cheap and easy way to diagnose those with acute and chronic hepatitis B. Patients are given two blood tests: one measuring the presence of antigens produced by the virus, and another measuring enzymes produced by the liver in response. Known as TREAT-B, the tests can accurately identify HBV positive patients who need chronic treatment 85% of the time, and those who need acute treatment 77% of the time.
The test operates at the same level of effectiveness as liver biopsies and complex blood analyses, both of which require access to a laboratory that many Sub-Saharan regions lack. Even better, TREAT-B is very inexpensive. Costing around $20 per test (comparatively less than the $100 to $500 tests currently in place), TREAT-B is as affordable as it is accessible. The latency of the virus makes the need for this test vital, as it can be passed from mother to child during childbirth and may not be detected until cirrhosis or cancer develops.
A Change For All
The success and widespread production of TREAT-B would benefit more than just African peoples. Over 250 million people are living with HBV around the world, and 1.4 million of them live right here in the United States, even despite the prevalence of hepatitis B vaccines. Low-income families could gain from the significantly reduced cost and be able to seek treatment sooner. As a result, TREAT-B has the potential to save countless lives all over the globe.