National viral hepatitis task force launched
In the Philippines, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are major public health problems that remain largely ignored. It is estimated that 16.7 percent (7.3 million) adult Filipinos are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus—that is 1 out of 7 Filipinos are living with hepatitis B. This rate is double the average prevalence rate in the Western Pacific region. In addition, although data is limited, as much as 1 percent of Filipinos may be infected with the hepatitis C virus.
Many Filipinos die of liver cancer and liver cirrhosis, both of which are known consequences of chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection. “Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are among the most common causes of liver cancer,” said Dr. Diana Payawal, president of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP) and executive council member of Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver (APASL).
“In the Philippines, hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer.” Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer, and is the second leading cause of cancer death in the country. In addition to the toll on their health, persons with hepatitis B or hepatitis C suffer stigma and discrimination,” Payawal said.
At the moment, the Philippines does not have a comprehensive program on the prevention and control of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. In 2010, the World Health Assembly (WHA) passed resolution WHA 63.18 that urges all member states to adopt a comprehensive approach to the prevention and control of viral hepatitis. The HSP, in line with its mission to be the lead national organization committed to the study of the liver in health and disease, involved in research, education, advocacy and formulation of national health policies in partnership with the global community, convened the national viral hepatitis task force (NVHTF), a multisectoral coalition of stakeholders who have a shared interest in viral hepatitis control and prevention.
The NVHTF will develop and maintain a national strategy to eliminate or significantly decrease the prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in the Philippines.
• The NVHTF has created a strategic plan, prevention and control of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in the Philippines: A Call to Action, which will serve as a roadmap for the viral hepatitis prevention and control. The roadmap adopts the framework of the World Health Organization (WHO) global hepatitis program that uses four axes to address viral hepatitis: Axis 1: Raising awareness, promoting partnerships, mobilizing resources; Axis 2: Evidence-based policy and data for action; Axis 3: Prevention of transmission; and, Axis 4: Screening, care and treatment.
On Nov. 20, The HSP along with its NVHTF partners—the WHO, the Department of Health, the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID), the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), the Philhealth, Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS), the Philippine Society of Gastroenterology (PSG), the Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines (YWSP) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)—officially launched the task force and shared the roadmap they created for viral hepatitis prevention and control in the country.
Hosted by veteran actor Edu Manzano, the press conference invited members of the media to meet members of the NVHTF and its partners, as well as inform them of the upcoming plans for 2014 and beyond. Sen. Pia Cayetano also joined the event to share the government’s support and policies ensuring the success of a comprehensive plan for viral hepatitis.
“With this roadmap, we hope to eradicate or significantly decrease the burden of viral hepatitis in the country,” Dr. Janus Ong of the HSP said. “This is just the start of the work that needs to be done. We are very fortunate to have the support of our legislators, the Department of Health, and all our partners locally, as well as hepatitis advocacy groups abroad including the Viral Hepatitis Foundation, World Hepatitis Alliance and the Coalition for the Eradication of Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific. Working together we feel we can truly make a difference in viral hepatitis control and prevention in the country.”
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