Abstract The epidemiology of viral hepatitis is of great importance for planning and managing health provision for all the countries in the Arab world. However, data on viral hepatitis are not readily available in a large percentage of Arab countries. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is considered to be one of the most important causes of chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. A systematic electronic search of published literature was conducted to extract data on epidemiology and risk factors for the analysis of HBV infection among the countries in the Arab world. The prevalence of chronic HBV infection was found to be decreasing in some Arab countries although it was still unacceptably high. This was particularly evident in the Arabian Gulf region, in Lebanon, Egypt and Libya. The age-specific prevalence varied from country to country with decline in prevalence being noted among children in the Gulf States and among Libyan women. These declines in prevalence are most likely to be related to the Expanded Immunization Programme. The alarmingly high prevalence of chronically infected patients in some areas and the widespread differences in HBV prevalence between Arab nations may be explained by the variation in risk factors involved. This situation calls for targeted approaches to tackle HBV-related mortality and morbidity. Precise HBV infection prevalence data are needed at the national and the sub-national level to estimate the disease burden, guide health intervention programmes and evaluate vaccine efficiency.