We set out to investigate the relationship between prevalence of HBV infection and exposure in Africa, undertaking a systematic literature review in November 2019. We identified published seroepidemiology data representing the period 1995-2019 from PubMed and Web of Science, including studies of adults that reported prevalence of both hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg; prevalence of HBV infection) and antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc; prevalence of HBV exposure). We identified 96 studies representing 39 African countries, with a median cohort size of 370 participants and a median participant age of 34 years. Using weighted linear regression analysis, we found a strong relationship between the prevalence of infection (HBsAg) and exposure (anti-HBc) (R2 = 0.45, p < 0.001). Region-specific differences were present, with estimated CHB prevalence in Northern Africa typically 30% to 40% lower (p = 0.007) than in Southern Africa for statistically similar exposure rates, demonstrating the need for intervention strategies to be tailored to individual settings. We applied a previously published mathematical model to investigate the effect of interventions in a high-prevalence setting. The most marked and sustained impact was projected with a T&T strategy, with a predicted reduction of 33% prevalence by 20 years (95% CI 30%-37%) and 62% at 50 years (95% CI 57%-68%), followed by routine neonatal vaccination and prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT; at 100% coverage). In contrast, the impact of catch-up vaccination in adults had a negligible and transient effect on population prevalence. The study is constrained by gaps in the published data, such that we could not model the impact of antiviral therapy based on stratification by specific clinical criteria and our model framework does not include explicit age-specific or risk-group assumptions regarding force of transmission.
The unique data set collected in this study highlights how regional epidemiology data for HBV can provide insights into patterns of transmission, and it provides an evidence base for future quantitative research into the most effective local interventions. In combination with robust neonatal immunisation programmes, ongoing PMTCT efforts, and the vaccination of high-risk groups, diagnosing and treating HBV infection is likely to be of most impact in driving advances towards elimination targets at a population level.