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Public awareness key to eradicate hepatitis B

Blame it on the lack of a sophisticated healthcare system or inability to access effective medicines. But the rising incidence of the deadly, infectious disease as hepatitis B in the country, can also be traced to another factor: “ignorance.”

Dr. Marilyn Arguillas, president of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP), explained that the “low awareness, misconception and misinformation” on hepatitis B urgently needed to be corrected as most patients do not know they have been infected until they are afflicted with the complications.

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Ignorance and several other factors continue to fuel the increase in the incidence of hepatitis B, with the prevalence rate rising to 16 percent from the previous 10-11 percent.

Fast facts

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There are several facts about hepatitis B that must first be made known to the public.

For one, hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus, which, when left undetected and untreated could lead to different types of liver diseases such as cancer and cirrhosis.

According to Arguillas, hepatitis B is usually transmitted through blood and body fluids. A primary cause for this transfer would that be of a mother that has hepatitis B to her child during birth and second, through sexual contact.

This is why Arguillas is encouraging people with HIV to have themselves tested also for HBV (hepatitis B virus), because there are a lot of cases in which the patients are “coinfected” which would thus require a different kind of treatment.

Body piercings and tattoos may also spread hepatitis B, especially if unsterilized needles are used.

“These are the in-apparent ways of transmitting the infection and these are what we want to highlight with the public health information campaign,” she said in a recent briefing sponsored by Roche to commemorate World Hepatitis Day.

Although there is no exact cure yet for hepatitis B, Arguillas pointed out that the disease is actually highly preventable through vaccination.

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“The best way to prevent it is through vaccination. In Taiwan, because of the universal vaccination for children, the government was able to bring down hepatitis B prevalence. A very good way of fully eradicating hepatitis B is if you could get rid of the infection as a child or as a baby,” she explained.

“In the Philippines, however, the incidence is increasing because we don’t a have a comprehensive plan for the prevention and treatment. What we have is the plan for vaccination,” Arguillas added.

Such treatments however, come at a steep cost—whether oral (tablets) or injectables (vaccines).

Joint launch

This is why the Hepatology Society of the Philippines and Roche Philippines have jointly launched “Pegassist” Easy Access Plan for hepatitis B patients.

Under this program patients can have access to peg-interferon alfa-2a hepatitis treatment medication with discounts of up to 50 percent.

“The Pegassist Easy Access Plan socialized the medication discount system. This means patients who truly cannot afford the medication will get a higher discount accordingly,” explained Dr. Dennis Dioko, specialty business unit director for Roche.

Asked how one can qualify, Dioko explained that patients can directly contact the hepatitis hotline (718-7620) or through their doctors. The hepatitis hotline nurse would then refer patients to a gastroenterologist for consultation and once they have been prescribed Peg interferon alfa-2a, the patients will then be referred to a financial assessment agency.

“In addition to providing discounts on the medication, Hepatitis B patients will be provided with free selected laboratory tests that would have otherwise been very expensive. The hotline can guide them accordingly on how to avail of these discounted labs,” Dioko concluded.

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TAGS: Business, diseases, Health, hepatitis B
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