World Hepatitis Day 2016
Advocacy as a Driver for Change
The prevalence of viral hepatitis – especially hepatitis B – has reached epidemic proportions in the Philippines. A total of 7.3 million people have hepatitis B, about 17% of adults.
About five years ago, the Hepatology Society of the Philippines decided that having a major impact on the epidemic required putting in place a strong and influential advocacy and awareness campaign that would provide education to the general public and attempt to reverse the growing epidemic.
Compared with HIV in the Philippines, viral hepatitis kills more people each year, people with hepatitis suffer worse forms of stigma and very few laws or other orders support people with hepatitis. Changing this requires determination. “We knew that, to create change, we needed to educate and empower members of the public, as well as healthcare professionals, so they have better knowledge about hepatitis; this would also reduce the stigma associated with it and therefore help people to seek care. We needed to disrupt the current situation and create a new, positive cycle,” says Dr Janus Ong, hepatologist and a Public Relations Officer of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines.
To provide urgent action, Dr Janus Ong and his team created an awareness campaign called B Aware, to increase awareness and improve understanding of hepatitis B. People who understand better will be more familiar with the risk factors, know when to get tested and seek effective treatment.
B Aware is being funded by individual donors, civil society, private foundations and industry partners.
“We knew that, to create change, we needed to educate and empower members of the public, as well as healthcare professionals, so they have better knowledge about hepatitis; this would also reduce the stigma associated with it and therefore help people to seek care. We needed to disrupt the current situation and create a new, positive cycle.”
-Dr Janus Ong
Dr Janus Ong says: “Critically, we worked to make sure that the B Aware campaign could speak to several different audiences. The first is the general public, which needs to improve knowledge and understand the risks of hepatitis. Lawmakers need to develop legislation that includes antidiscrimination provisions for people with hepatitis B and C similar to people living with HIV. Finally, policy-makers carry out valuable work alongside the Department of Health to establish hepatitis control and prevention programmes. Educating healthcare professionals with resources and materials to improve their skills is also really important. In the Philippines, about 40% of physicians are still prescribing non-recommended medications for people with hepatitis B.”
The B Aware campaign has a website (www.bawareph.com) and Facebook page (with more than 7800 likes). In less than two years since it was launched in October 2014, it has become one of the largest online communities for people with hepatitis B in the world. In January 2017, during liver cancer and hepatitis B awareness month in the Philippines, B Aware will launch educational messages across mainstream multimedia channels, including radio, newspaper and print.
The recently launched Regional Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis in the Western Pacific 2016–2020 also highlights the importance of advocacy in effectively fighting hepatitis. Importantly, it recommends advocacy and activities in addition to those conducted on World Hepatitis Day, providing the continuity that year-round education can provide. Advocacy and engagement change perceptions and improve understanding of both the risks and impact of viral hepatitis.
Looking ahead to the future, Dr Janus Ong comments, “As awareness and education around viral hepatitis improves, we will also need to ensure that we develop adequate infrastructure to be able to cope with increased demand. Most importantly, this will include fast-tracking national action plans to test, diagnose and treat more people.” This will be part of an important ongoing process alongside the efforts of the Department of Health of the Philippines.
Do Your Part!
Across the Western Pacific Region, hugely important steps and actions are taking place to help to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. This collection of stories celebrates the heroes who are leading the fight against hepatitis.
Help us to celebrate World Hepatitis Day on 28 July by sharing this story using the hashtag #HepHero. If you have been involved in the fight against hepatitis, then please share your story with us too.