December 2, 2013

Task Force and roadmap to combat hepatitis in PH launched

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:07 pm | Monday, December 2nd, 2013

The Hepatology Society of the Philippines, along with its partners in the National Viral Hepatitis Task Force (NVHTF), a multisectoral coalition of stakeholders who have a shared interest in viral hepatitis control and prevention, recently launched a National Viral Hepatitis Task Force, which aims to work for greater viral hepatitis prevention and control in the country.

The HPS’ partners include the Department of Health, World Health Organization, Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Philippine College of Physicians, Philhealth, Philippine Pediatric Society, Philippine Society of Gastroenterology, Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines and the Department of Labor and Employment.

In the Philippines, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are major public health problems that remain largely ignored. It is estimated that 16.7 percent, or some 7.3 million, adult Filipinos are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus.

That means 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, current president of HSP and executive council member of Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver. “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, said Dr. Payawal.

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 passed resolution WHA 63.18, which urges all member states to adopt a comprehensive approach to the prevention and control of viral hepatitis.

The HSP has convened the National Viral Hepatitis Task Force which 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, called “Prevention and Control of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in the Philippines: A Call to Action,” to serve as a roadmap for its efforts. The roadmap adopts the framework of the WHO Global Hepatitis Program, which uses four axes to address viral hepatitis: Axis 1 is about raising awareness, promoting partnerships, mobilizing resources; Axis 2 is about evidence-based policy and data for action; Axis 3 touches on prevention of transmission; and Axis 4 involves screening, care and treatment.

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