The Health Exemplars
The lack of public knowledge on hepatitis viral infections has led to misconceptions causing stigma for those who carry the virus, and to delayed treatment leading to liver cancer and end-stage liver disease. The Hepatology Society of the Philippines has accomplished an exemplary feat in filling in the knowledge and treatment gaps, empowering both the public and the medical community with the proper knowledge to combat this potentially fatal disease
By Ma. Vanessa L. Estinozo
Hepatitis B infection is an important public health problem in the Philippines. A significant barrier towards a Hepatitis B-free country is the widespread lack of awareness about the disease. This paucity of knowledge has also led to stigmatization against those who have had the infection or carry the virus, and their opportunities for gainful employment are being limited.
This undue discrimination hinders testing and discourages many from seeking proper medical advice. This leads to a vicious cycle of misinformation and discrimination leading to further underdiagnosis. The end result is that some patients progress to end-stage liver disease or liver cancer.
The Hepatology Society of the Philippines recognizes that an important step in fighting Hepatitis B is for the public to learn more about the disease. While it is one of the youngest professional medical societies in the country, the HSP has made significant and noteworthy accomplishments leading to the advancement of care for patients with liver disease in the Philippines.
Strengthening the fight
By creating an awareness campaign which aimed to bring accurate and updated information regarding Hepatitis B to the masses, HSP launched a B-Aware campaign in 2014. The campaign’s main goals are: 1) Be tested as Hepatitis B is very common affecting one in seven Filipinos, 2) Be vaccinated as it is highly effective, safe, and free for all infants, and 3) Be treated as treatment is available to prevent further complications of liver cancer and liver cirrhosis brought about by Hepatitis B.
In 2009 to 2010, the HSP successfully conducted the Liver Caravan, a series of symposia that brought Continuing medical education on liver wellness and disease to medical practitioners all over the country in various communities in Cebu, Angeles, Iloilo, Batangas, Davao, Manila, Tacloban, Naga, and General Santos City. The success of the Caravan extended its awareness to non-medical personnel with lay for barangay health workers and high school students.
Just last year, the HSP coordinated a nationwide celebration of this event in nearly 20 government and private hospitals with a theme “Sa unang 24 oras, bakunahan si Baby kontra Hepa B.”
Recently, the Society signed a tripartite Memorandum of Agreement with the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) and the Fondaizone Italiana Fegato (FIF) to create a fellowship that will allow the HSP and the PCHRD to send promising young clinician-scientists to FIF to pursue further research training in Hepatology.
The exchange of knowledge between the two countries will undoubtedly contribute to the improvement of liver health in the Philippines through policymaking and the development of pioneering and innovative strategies in disease prevention and treatment.
Together with the Philippine College of Physicians, the HSP lobbied for the passage of Sin Tax Law, acknowledging the harmful effects of alcohol on liver.
In 2015, the HSP, as a member of the Technical Working Group on Human Organ and Tissue Donation led by the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, actively participated in the drafting of the Administrative Order on the National Policy on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation and its Implementing Structure. Currently, the AO is undergoing revision after a public consultation last June 2016.
In the same manner, the creation of Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Guideline for the Implementation of a Workplace Policy and Program on Hepatitis B is based from HSP’s Guidelines on the Evaluation of HBsAg (Hepatitis B surface Antigen) positive Workers for Employment, which was created to guide health care practitioners performing pre-employment evaluation of HBsAg positive job applicants.
The DOLE advisory and HSP Guidelines for Hepatitis B in the Workplace have greatly contributed to the reduction of the loss of income and productivity about the undue discrimination against Hepatitis B-positive individuals in the workplace.
Despite the high number and grave consequences of Hepatitis B infection globally, HSP has been a prime mover towards formulating National Action Plan on viral hepatitis. Thanks to the Global Hepatitis Programme framework of the World Health Organization, the Society launched the National Viral Hepatitis Task Force (NVHTF) and produced a “roadmap” that included a call to action towards creating a national strategy for viral hepatitis B and C.
To generate data to inform policy on viral hepatitis, the HSP together with the Department of Health, the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) and the WPRO, formed a Hepatitis B and C Burden of Disease and Economic Analysis Study Group. The Study Group has engaged the help of the Center for Disease Analysis (CDA) to perform disease and cost benefit modeling for both HBV and HCV. The output of the Study Group will be used to build an investment case to fund a National Action Plan for viral hepatitis.
It may still be a long way off, but the HSP has already contributed significantly towards a liver-healthy country. In its 10 years of existence, the Society has remained steadfast in its liver disease advocacy, as the country’s foremost champion for liver health.
“The Hepatology Society of the Philippines recognizes that an important step in fighting Hepatitis B is for the public to learn more about the disease.”
March 2017 Health and Lifestyle