A team of UNC researchers will use funds from the Gillings School of Global Public Health to test two interventions to prevent mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Jonathan Parr, MD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC, says around five percent of people living in the DRC have hepatitis B. Mother-to-child transmission of the virus is easily preventable if proper screening and treatment are in place. Parr says there is no cure for chronic hepatitis B virus. If left untreated, it can progress to chronic liver disease and cancer.
Parr and Steve Meshnick, MD, PhD, professor and associate chair of the UNC Department of Epidemiology, received a two-year Gillings Innovation Laboratory award. These awards, funded by a gift from the Gillings family, support innovations to improve public health.
The project will be based in antenatal clinics and hospitals in Kinshasa. “We will screen 2,000 women for hepatitis B virus during their antenatal visits,” says Peyton Wilson, MD, pediatric infectious diseases fellow at UNC. “We expect around 100 women will test positive for hepatitis B.”
Women who test positive will be given medication to control their viral load, and women living with HIV will receive medications that treat both HIV and hepatitis B virus. Once an infant is born, the hepatitis B virus vaccine will be administered within 24 hours, which is standard practice in the United States. Currently in the DRC, this vaccine is given once the infant is six weeks old, which Wilson says is too late to prevent infection.
“This is a feasibility study to see if these interventions can be implemented in a resource-limited country,” Wilson says. “If we are successful, we hope to work with health officials in the DRC to regularly screen pregnant women for hepatitis B virus and to administer the vaccine to infants within 24 hours of birth.”
Other collaborators include Ravi Jhaveri from the Department of Pediatrics, Rohit Ramaswamy from the Public Health Leadership Program, and Marcel Yotebieng from Ohio State University.