Health expert champions stronger advocacy on hepatitis awareness, treatment.

July 19, 2013 11:40 am 

By Azer N. Parrocha

MANILA, July 18 (PNA) — Although it has been regarded as one of the world’s greatest threats to health, little attention has been given to viral hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), or at least not as much as other diseases.

According to data from the Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific (CEVHAP), one person dies every 30 seconds from viral hepatitis in Asia Pacific, which is a death rate three times as high as HIV/AIDS.

Incidentally, gastroenterologist and CEVHAP member, Dr. Jose Sollano in a press briefing in Thursday said that this year, he and members of the CEVHAP, Hepatitis Society of the Philippines (HSP) and pharmaceutical company MSD will push for a stronger advocacy on hepatitis awareness, screening, and treatment.

Sollano said that new figures were announced; revealing the fact that the number of people dying from viral hepatitis in Asia Pacific has reached one million every year, up from 695,000 in 1990.1.

And that was only the beginning, imagine a disease that slays the lives of this number of people being preventable, by antibiotic vaccine which very few individuals have access to or knowledge about.

“It’s a scary thing because while vaccination is a key strategy for preventing spread and controlling infection, the implementation made in the Philippines is very low,” Sollano said.

Although the Department of Health (DOH) allots vaccines for every baby born yearly, Sollano said that the three dosages done are almost never completed. They are not properly distributed.

“We want a campaign that decreases hepatitis among babies,” he said, especially vaccines for the types that are most grave—hepatitis B and C.

Hepa fast facts

There are five types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis B and C contribute the largest overall disease burden of all forms of hepatitis, with 500 million people worldwide living with chronic hepatitis B or C.

Meanwhile, a total of 350 million people living with chronic hepatitis B alone and 74 percent of these people live in Asia Pacific.

In the Philippines, it is estimated that 1 out of 6 Filipinos or 16.7 percent are infected with the deadly virus.

Globally, viral hepatitis kills 1.4 million people each year, a figure similar to the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS.

When looking at Asia Pacific, the situation is even starker with approximately one million deaths from viral hepatitis each year, compared with 300,000 from HIV/AIDS.

Sollano further explained that the government has often been at a loss about how to tackle these diseases, lacking the technical expertise, resources and even evidence to justify the investments needed.

“We now have the evidence that justifies the investment in the form of one million people dying needlessly every year,” he said.

“We also have a new framework from the World Health Organization and as a member of CEVHAP, I urge our policymakers to form national strategies and ensure viral hepatitis receives the attention it needs,” he added.

Prevention and cure

In the Philippines, vaccine for hepatitis B and new treatments for chronic hepatitis C are available, but Sollano asid that none of these would matter the disease is not tackled in a more comprehensive way.

Sollano said that a person with hepatitis will not necessarily feel its symptoms right away. He added that people can even “walk around feeling nothing and be at risk”.

Among the first few symptoms however include fatigue, difficulty in thinking and concentrating, yellowing of the skin, swelling, fluid in the abdomen, gastrointestinal bleeding and poor blood-clotting.

“Patients can be treated and it translates into longer life expectancy,” Sollano said. “We approach a certain degree of function and structure that is going to ensure a person’s normal life span.”

There were two types of treatment for hepatitis, according to Sollano. One was through injection while the other was through pills which had the same effects except that the former was more expensive than the latter.

Of course, one had a bigger advantage, despite its price. Tablets, he said could treat a hepatitis patient and see its results after years but injections can treat a patient within a year.

If the tablets fail, a patient might eventually have to spend twice by continuously taking tablets as well as receiving injection as treatments so it was advisable to spend for the better option of the two.

“This is a treatable disease and you can actually prevent the spread of the disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Simple things like avoiding cholesterol-rich foods and alcoholic beverages would do wonders for a person’s body, Sollano said. Also, screening is very important.(PNA)



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