Sunday, August 07, 2011

To treat or Not to Treat

by Ana Valenzuela

Published Manila Standard Today August 4, 2011

One out of 10 Filipinos is infected with Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is one of today’s challenging and infectious diseases. It is threatening to the physical condition as it can lead to other diseases.

There are two ways to get HBV(Hepatitis B Virus). One is through blood to blood or bodily fluid contact, and the other is through mother to child transmission. “Bodily contact, exposure to blood, you had a needle prick when you were doing an injection, blood transfusion, sharing of needles, piercing, tattooing, multiple sexual partners, but here in the Philippines, the incidence is more on mother to child transmission. Meaning the mother is a carrier of HBV, and during the process of delivery, the virus is transmitted to the newborn,” says Doctor Judy Lao-Tan, internal auditor of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP) at a recent press conference sponsored by the HSP and Roche.

The HSP is rallying behind the mandatory vaccination of newborns so that the high numbers might see a decline. The first vaccine should be given at birth, so that it prevents the virus, followed by vaccination at one month and six months.

“Not everyone who is a carrier of Hepatitis B is a candidate for treatment. Two-thirds who have hepatitis B are just carriers, the only problem they have is that they can transmit the disease and nothing is going on inside their body. One-thirds have active hepatitis, they are the ones who will require treatment. Not all, not everybody is a candidate for treatment,” says Doc Judy.

From Hepa B to Liver Cancer

Majority of acute Hepatitis B carriers do not develop chronic Hepatitis B. Still, the HSP is moving for prompt treatment of active Hepatitis B patients.

Those who have chronic Hepatitis B are at risk of developing liver cirrhosis. “When you develop liver cirrhosis, you may develop liver cancer. The normal life span of a patient with liver cancer after diagnosis is anywhere between three to six months,” says Dr. Marilyn Aguillas, President of the HSP.

Apart from liver cirrhosis those diagnosed with active Hepatitis B might also get infected with another Hepatitis virus. “With the HBV, you have the tendency to develop Delta Hepatitis. It requires the Hepatitis B to be infected. Fortunately, in our country, Delta Hepatitis is not a major problem, unlike in Mediterranean countries where dual infection is high,” says Doc Judy.

“Hepatitis B is more faithful to you than your wife or husband, the only way to remove it is either through treatment or oral medication,” says Doc Marilyn. Medications, however, are not easy on the pocket. They would require you to shell out a whopping P12,000 a week, or more or less the minimum monthly wage.

Even more saddening is that patients are troubled by the drawbacks of discrimination. The Yellow Warriors Society is an online patients group. It has members that are skilled employees, lawyer, accountants, among others, and it became an online venue for them to share what they are going through. Pamela Chan, a speaker for the Yellow Warriors Society shares, “there are a lot of members who are competent. They have passed all the exams, submitted all the requirements, but when they have been tested positive, they are not given the job. Even though there is memorandum by the Department of Labor and Employment not to discriminate Hepatitis B carriers, the employers will say that it is company policy. It is no longer about the competencies, but about the stigma that the public has.”

How can the patient provide for his medical needs without work? This is where Roche, the world’s largest biotech company, comes in as it tries to help those who are financially incapable through its program the PEGASSIST.

“The PEGASSIST Easy Access Plan socializes the medication discount system. This means, patients who truly cannot afford the medication will get a higher discount accordingly,” says Doctor Dennis Dioko, Roche specialty business unit director.

Patients can ask their doctors about this program or call the Hepatitis Hotline (718-7620). They can receive as much as 50 percent off on the medication and be provided with selected Hepatitis B laboratory tests.

Not every Hepatitis B patient would require medical attention, but those needing so now have a viable alternative making it easier.

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