28 July 2013
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day
Sen. Pia warns against Hepatitis B spread: ‘16 million infected and counting’
Senator Pia S. Cayetano today said the government has made headway in addressing Hepatitis B, a viral infection of the liver which is highly endemic in the Philippines, but much needs to be done to control the spread of this deadly disease which currently affects one in every eight Filipinos.
Marking World Hepatitis Day, which is observed every July 28th, Cayetano said the passage of Republic Act 10152, the ‘Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act’ two years ago, made vaccination against the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) compulsory for all infants within 24 hours of birth and available in government health facilities.
“The enactment of RA 10152 seeks to address the most common mode of transmission of the HBV, which is from mother to child. It is one major step, but it’s not enough and we need to follow through,” said Cayetano, the law’s principal author in the Senate.
“The government urgently needs to intensify its programs and map out a comprehensive strategy against the spread of Hepatitis B, which liver experts have described as a ‘public health emergency’ in the country,” added the senator, who also chaired the Senate Committee on Health and Demography in the 15th Congress Official estimates place the prevalence rate of Hepatitis B at 16 percent of the population, or approximately 16 million Filipinos. Hepatitis C has a lower prevalence, but its cases are steadily climbing, according to reports from the Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP) and the National Viral Hepatitis Task Force (NVHTF).
Noting the theme of World Hepatitis Day this year, ‘This is Hepatitis. Know it. Confront it,’ Cayetano noted that public awareness about the disease, including its cause, symptoms and implications, remains very low.
“There could in fact be underreporting of cases because many of those infected are not even aware that they are carriers of the HBV, and may be infecting others. On the other hand, lack of knowledge about the nature of the disease, and how the HBV is transmitted, also leads to discrimination against people with Hepatitis B in the workplace.”
One of the concrete actions from the government is the issuance of guidelines on workplace policy and non-discrimination on Hepatitis B by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), through DOLE Advisory No.5 which became effective in January, 2011.
The labor advisory requires HBV vaccination to all occupations with a conceivable risk of Hepatitis B transmission in the workplace, such as health workers and other workers whose occupation involves the potential exchange of body fluids. It also requires firms to include a policy on non-discriminatory, confidentiality, work accommodation, and arrangement for workers with Hepatitis B.
The guidelines became the product of the series of public hearings conducted by the Senate Committee on Health and Demography under Sen. Cayetano. Among those consulted were medical doctors, employers’ groups, government agencies and support groups for workers with Hepatitis B.
Cayetano is also working with the Hepatology Society of the Philippines to come up with a policy proposal that would allow PhilHealth to cover and reimburse for the vaccination, screening and treatment for Hepatitis B, as well as treatment for Hepatitis C, which medical experts say is potentially curable with early diagnosis and treatment.
“Additional revenues generated from the Sin Tax Reform Law, which we also helped pass in the last Congress, will be plowed back to our people through better health services and the administration’s universal health care program. As such, we hope to include Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in the treatment packages of the PhilHealth soon,” she concluded. #