MANILA, Philippines – Despite efforts to increase public awareness on Hepatitis B, advocates fighting to eradicate the disease say discrimination against patients is "still rampant."
Dr Eternity Labio, Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP) president, said the worst discrimination she heard of was when an embalmer refused to embalm one patient who died of Hepatitis B complications.
“I said, ‘Wow, in life and in death, they are being discriminated upon,” she said on Tuesday, January 27, at a Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) forum.
Some patients are discriminated even by their own families, said Eric Ueda, secretary of advocacy group Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines.
"Our members, some of them are discriminated by their families. Because they don’t know about Hepatitis B, they will separate your utensils, but that shouldn’t be; you cannot transmit the disease through utensils," he added.
Labio said approximately 8 million Filipinos are infected with Hepatitis B, a viral infection that attacks the liver and can be transmitted through blood and body fluids.
Prevalence of the disease is very high at 16.7%. This means one in 7 Filipinos are infected by the virus, which is one of the most common causes of liver cancer and liver cirrhosis. (READ: Understanding the C-word: Cancer)
Discrimination in the workplace
Although the numbers are alarming, individuals who are Hepatitis B positive should still be able to lead normal lives, even in the workplace.
But in the Philippines, Labio said some employers have included screening for Hepatitis B as part of their pre-employment medical examination.
"Screening on basis of employment should not be mandatory, because it is not a prerequisite to be employed. But screening for health reasons should be promoted and encouraged,” she explained.
But Ueda said the government should go beyond a department order by crafting a law that will prevent discrimination against Hepatitis B patients.
“To be honest and to be direct, kulang po ang government intervention sa isang malaking problema ng society, (government intervention is not enough in addressing a big social problem),” he added.
In 2013, HSP already launched a National Viral Hepatitis Task Force that will develop a national strategy to combat the prevalence of Hepatitis B and C in the country.
HSP and other advocacy groups also hope to sit down with Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, chair of the Senate committee on health and demography, for a dialogue on addressing the Hepatitis B problem in the Philippines through legislation. – Rappler.com
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