World Hepatitis Day 2016
Creating Impact Through Collaboration
In March 2016, the Philippines made a significant step forward in fighting hepatitis by establishing the National Hepatitis Prevention and Control Program within the Department of Health. As the existing Manager for the country’s HIV/AIDS and STI Prevention and Control Program, Dr Belimac took on the role of stewarding this initiative to develop the new national hepatitis program and policy guidelines.
This signifies much-needed positive action in the Philippines. An estimated 7.3 million people, or 17% of the adults in the Philippines, are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus – about twice the average for the rest of the WHO Western Pacific Region (8%). Conversely, hepatitis C virus in the Philippines is much more concentrated geographically among people who inject drugs and therefore requires a much more targeted approach. About 14 000–20 000 people inject drugs in the Philippines, and as many as 90% may have hepatitis C.
The establishment of the National Hepatitis Prevention and Control Program in the Philippines testifies to true collaboration between civil society and government. In 2013, the Hepatology Society of the Philippines brought together multidisciplinary stakeholders involved in the fight against hepatitis from across the country to create a National Viral Hepatitis Task Force. They put out an official call to action for the prevention and control of hepatitis B and C in the Philippines. This action concluded with the National Hepatitis Prevention and Control Program directed by the Department of Health.
“Hepatitis B vaccination programmes have prevented more than 7 million people from dying across the Region between 1990 and 2014. The growing contribution of vaccination to defeating hepatitis B is the cornerstone of eliminating that form of the disease in our lifetime both within the Philippines and across the Western Pacific Region. The National Hepatitis Prevention and Control Program will support the further roll-out of vaccination programme implementation with the aim of providing universal coverage, including birth dose vaccination for newborns.”
-Dr Jose Gerard Belimac
Now that it has been established, the Program will continue to grow in influence and will be increasingly involved in developing national policy and guidelines to support the effective treatment and prevention of viral hepatitis in the Philippines. It will also align closely to the goals and targets of the Regional Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis in the Western Pacific 2016–2020, which provides a systematic approach to priority areas for action to reduce the impact of viral hepatitis, focusing on chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
In accordance with the Regional Action Plan, advocacy and collaboration must create even greater impact. Dr Belimac believes strongly that continued collaboration with patient groups will play an increasingly important role in creating strong movements to which policy-makers will listen and respond. Advocacy and engagement will change perceptions and improve understanding of the risks and impact of viral hepatitis.
Dr Belimac also believes that one of the greatest achievements to celebrate is the impact on vaccination for hepatitis B. “Hepatitis B vaccination programmes have prevented more than 7 million people from dying across the Region between 1990 and 2014. The growing contribution of vaccination to defeating hepatitis B is the cornerstone of eliminating that form of the disease in our lifetime both within the Philippines and across the Western Pacific Region. The National Hepatitis Prevention and Control Program will support the further roll-out of vaccination programme implementation with the aim of providing universal coverage, including birth dose vaccination for newborns.”
Dr Belimac is confident that the Philippines will reach the ambitious targets included in the Regional Action Plan, but significant barriers remain to be overcome in the coming years.
Lessons from HIV and sexually transmitted infections show that achieving treatment targets for hepatitis B and C requires a simplified public health approach. This means simplifying diagnosis to make it easier and more rapid and simplifying treatment regimens. The Department of Health currently has a centralized approach to laboratory testing and diagnosis but, in the future, Dr Belimac hopes that a simpler point-of-care system will be used so that people are tested and diagnosed and begin treatment far more quickly.
Finally, Dr Jose Gerard Belimac, through the National Hepatitis Prevention and Control Program and the Food and Drug Administration Philippines, supports fast-tracking the registration of new hepatitis B and C treatments so that they are integrated into the national drug formulary for the Philippines. New drug technology that offers cures for many people with hepatitis C will be made more accessible and more affordable. Improving access to curative treatment will have a huge impact on hepatitis C in 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.