February 7, 2014
Sen. Pia cited for hepa B, liver cancer advocacy
Senator Pia S. Cayetano became the very first recipient of the ‘Jade Ribbon Award’ from the Stanford University-based Asian Liver Center, which recently recognized the senator’s leadership in enhancing government response and raising public awareness on liver cancer and hepatitis B in the Philippines.
The award was handed to the senator by Dr. Samuel So, Director of the Asian Liver Center, a research institute on liver cancer and hepatitis B based at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California. Dr. So paid a courtesy visit to the Philippine Senate last February 4.
The Jade Ribbon, Dr. So pointed out, is the universal symbol of the center’s campaign to raise awareness on liver cancer and to support those living with chronic hepatitis B.
Cayetano is the principal author of Republic Act 10152, the ‘Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act,’ which made vaccination against the hepatitis B virus (HBV) compulsory for all infants within 24 hours of birth.
“Liver cancer caused by chronic Hepatitis B infection is a major cause of cancer deaths in the Philippines. Liver cancer is very scary, but not many know that this killer disease can be prevented. It is caused by chronic liver infection which can be prevented by a vaccine and treated with anti-viral drugs,” said Dr. So, who is also a professor at Stanford.
“Liver cancer is proportionally higher in Asia. If you look at the numbers worldwide, the burden of liver cancer is in the Western Pacific Region, and not as common in Western Europe and America. The region, which includes the Philippines, accounts for two-thirds of all the cancers,” he explained.
Dr. So added that chronic liver infection is mainly transmitted from the mother to the baby at birth, in the days when the latter has not gotten vaccination. “So now, you can totally prevent that transmission by making sure that all the babies get vaccinated, with the first shot given within 24 hours of childbirth.”
“The legislation that the senator introduced in the Philippines (Republic Act 10152) addressed this. We’re very impressed by Sen. Cayetano’s work in the legislature to make sure that every baby is protected against hepatitis B. This law can save millions of lives in the future from liver cancer, as well as liver cirrhosis.”
In response, Cayetano said the challenge lies in sustaining the campaign to educate the people about the dreaded disease, and to ensure that HBV vaccination is made available at ground level all over the country.
“It is very important that we vaccinate children and infants at birth. But sadly, despite the passage of the law and the funds that are annually appropriated in our national budget, it seems that there still is lack of awareness to ensure that all our infants are vaccinated,” she stressed.
She noted that local government units (LGUs), especially health officers in the municipal level, the cities and provinces, should make hepatitis B a priority.
“We have to make sure that hepatitis B vaccination is made available to the child of every mother who has given birth. And we remember that it’s not just one dose, but there should be follow-up shots. You actually need three after birth. This simple act will ensure that children will grow up and be hepatitis B-free, and not have to suffer a life of liver cancer.”
The senator said the campaign on liver disease is personal to her because her father, the late Senator Rene Cayetano, suffered from hepatitis B which led to liver cancer.
“What we have to do is vaccinate and raise awareness in order to reduce the incidence of hepatitis B in our country. In the long run, we should also have a comprehensive program for the treatment of those who are already HBV carriers, and to provide support for them.” #