HEPATITIS B infection is now included among the diseases that are given top priority by the Department of Health (DOH) for eradication.
There are 7.3 million Filipinos suffering from hepatitis B, according to the data released during the observance of World Hepatitis Day held at the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) Auditorium in Quezon City on July 28.
Hepatitis B is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus can cause both acute and chronic infections that affect the liver.
That vaccination against hepatitis B is available at hospital facilities and health centers nationwide is proof of the DOH efforts toward hepatitis B disease prevention in the country, says Dr. Jose Gerard Belimac, the program manager of the DOH-National Center for Disease Prevention and Control (NCDPC).
The top three diseases given priority by the DOH and also by global attention were AIDS-HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, he noted. Thus, it was in these three diseases where, he said, the bulk of health funds went to in the past years, just like what other United Nations member countries were doing.
Dr. Belimac also said that the same global attention being done by the member countries of the UN prompted the DOH to put the same level of attention to hepatitis prevention to help in the goal of eradicating it by year 2030 under the Sustainable Development Goals.
Hepatitis B vaccine is given in three doses and it is important that the first dose is given to the newborn baby within 24 hours of birth as a way of protecting him/her from the infection, which may lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer.
The hepatitis vaccination program has been in place before, but is being strengthened to ensure that the vaccination rate compliance will be increased to achieve the goal of eradicating the hepatitis B infection in the country.
The strategy was created when the DOH-NCDPC) started to create a working group last April wherein a program against viral hepatitis supported by experts in the country such as liver specialists and those who have exposure to hepatitis problems was created.
The program aims to find ways also to access cheaper medicines for those dealing with hepatitis infections.
Dr. Belimac said that as of now, it is still a sad fact that there is still no effective drug for hepatitis B because experts are still conducting research on it.
But he assured that once the effective drug will be available, the DOH will ensure to provide it adequately.
For the meantime, he said that they are putting efforts to create heightened awareness as a strategy to strengthen the availment of hepatitis B vaccines in the regular programs and services of the DOH, especially among the newborn babies.
He said it is important that mothers and health workers on the ground are aware of it and people, especially pregnant women and would-be mothers, know that their babies deserve to be protected because the vaccine is there — free, safe, available and funded by the DOH as preventive strategy against hepatitis B.