March 27 (UPI) -- About 90 percent of people in the world with hepatitis B are unaware they are living with the condition, and just five percent are receiving necessary medical care, according to new research.
About 291.9 million people are infected with hepatitis B -- 3.9 percent of the world's population -- according to a study published Monday in the Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology journal.
The data came from Polaris Observatory, which participated in the research and regularly reports more generally on efforts to curb hepatitis.
Hepatitis B, an infectious disease, is primarily transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of an already infected person. It is a leading cause of liver cancer, according to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, with 4 million people infected with it -- most of whom are unaware.
No virological cure exists for hepatitis B, but a vaccine has been available since 1981.
The researchers developed models for 120 countries, 78 of which were populated with data approved by experts. Only 22 were estimated to have already reached the 2020 target of diagnosing one-third of the infected HBV population.
"Although some regions are well on their way to meeting prophylaxis and prevalence targets, all regions must substantially scale-up access to diagnosis and treatment to meet the global targets," the researchers wrote.
Around 1.8 million children aged 5 years of age were infected. The WHO recommends that all newborns receive their first dose of a vaccine within 24 hours of birth, part of its wide-ranging Global Health Sector Strategy to eradicate the disease by 2030.
Countries on track to eliminate hepatitis B among 5-year-olds by 2030 include the United States, Australia, China, Japan, France, Germany and Russia. Britain is on track to reach less than 1 percent by 2030.
The researchers estimated that 87 percent of infants had received the three-dose HBV vaccination in the first year of life, 46 percent had received timely birth-dose vaccination and 13 percent had hepatitis B immunoglobulin along with the full vaccination regimen.
Less than 1 percent of all infected mothers are receiving antiviral therapy to reduce mother-to-child transmission, researchers report, suggesting more needs to be done for reductions in this area.
The country with the highest prevalence is Central African Republic, where 12.1 percent of the population carry the disease. Sixty percent of global cases are in Asia, including China, India, the Philippines and Indonesia.