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Yellow Warriors Society Fights for Awareness, Eradication of Hepatitis B

What they fight for is more than just an advocacy – to them it is a calling. The Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines (YWSP) is a national organization of hepatitis B virus (HBV) patients and advocates who fight for and believe in the eradication of hepatitis B. Their cause is not only something they believe in, it is personal. Either they themselves are experiencing the devastating effects of the disease or someone close to them is.

Indeed, the society gives a voice to many HBV patients whose voices may have otherwise gone unheard. Starting out as an online group in April 2007, the society became a virtual venue for sharing, motivating, and inspiring patients and their families to continue their lives in spite of the disease. This in itself was a tremendous help to many, but it was just the beginning. IN 2010, the Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines was formalized as a national organization and now represents the Filipino HBV patients as a voting member of the World Hepatitis Alliance based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Real Situation

In the Philippines, Hepatitis B is said to be the leading cause of liver damage resulting in liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Studies show that in the Philippines there is a hepatitis B carrier rate of around nine to 16 percent. This means that out of 10 people at least one is  a carrier of hepatitis B. It is estimated that more than 7.7 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B, of whom between 1.1 and 1.9 million are expected to die prematurely of cirrhosis or liver cancer. This makes chronic hepatitis B one of the most challenging infectious diseases to manage.

In addition to being a serious health threat, another burden lies on the discrimination that infected individuals receive from society. Hepatitis B is hyperendemic in the Philippines. It can happen to anyone regardless of social status, education, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. The virus does not see labels and does not discriminate.

The Yellow Warriors Society strives to share this message with everyone and actively participates in drafting policies that are pro-health and pro-HBV carrier. These include participation in the institutionalization of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Advisory No. 5 (Guidelines on the Implementation of a Workplace Policy and Program on Hepatitis B) and the recently enacted Republic Act 10152 championed by Sen. Pia Cayetano (Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act of 2011), which emphasized mandatory HBV vaccination of newborn infants.

“We recognize that while we cannot immediately change the present, we can do something about the future. The Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines represents the 16 million Filipinos of today struggling to contribute to society, despite their pre-condition,” Pamela Chan of YNSP share. “Sixteen million less pair of hands who want to work and pay taxes towards the progress of our nation, only to be denied employment because they are labeled ‘unfit to work’ without appropriate medical evaluation. Sixteen million broken  persons are stigmatized, limiting their personal and social relations, 16 million individuals whose families share their physical and financial burdens. Several hepatitis B patients, roughly four million, can receive treatment, but the reality is, many of them can not afford it.”

A New Hope

In response to calls for access to hepatitis B treatment, multinational pharmaceutical company Roche Philippines has partnered with the Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP), with the support of the Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines, to launch the PEGASSIST Easy Access Plan for patients with hepatitis B.

Through the PEGASSIST Easy Access Plan, patients with hepatitis B can have access to the peg-interferon alfa-2a hepatitis treatment medication with discounts up to as much as 50 percent. “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,” said Dr. Dennis Dioko, Roche specialty business unit director.

“For patients who are interested to see if they can qualify for discounts through the PEGASSIST Easy Access Plan, there are several ways to find out. First, if they are seeing a gastroenterologist, their doctor can refer them to the Hepatitis Hotline. If they are not currently seeing a doctor, they can call the hotline directly and the hotline can refer them to a gastroenterologist nearest to them for consultation.”

According to Dr. Dioko, “After hepatitis B patients call the hotline – manned by the Hepatitis Hotline nurse – and have already been prescribed Peg interferon alfa-2a by their doctors, they will be referred to a financial assessment agency. The financial assessment agency will then conduct an evaluation of the patient to determine the discount rate applicable to the patient. Once the financial assessment has been completed, the agency will decide how much of a discount the patient is eligible to receive. Patients can receive as much as 50 percent off of the medication.”

“In addition to providing discounts on the medication, hepatitis B patients will also be provided with free selected hepatitis B laboratory tests that would have otherwise been very expensive.

The program is a landmark step for all HBV organizations, patients, and their families. Through the program, treatment and care can become available to wider range of Hepatitis B patients and give them the opportunity to get the medication they need.

Looking Ahead

While there are changes being made, there is much more to be done. The Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines is fully committed to their advocacy of promoting a healthy productive society by fighting Hepatitis B, preventing it, eradicating prejudices and discrimination, disseminating information of treatment and care, and diminishing suffering through advocacy, research and education.

Awareness is the key step and to promote their cause even further, the Yellow Society of the Philippines (HSP) are hosting run entitled “Run for Liver. 12 minus 1, making a difference” tomorrow, Aug. 27, 2011 at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center. There will be free rapid HBsAg testing for the first 200 run participants. Online run registration is still open athttp://yellowwarriors.multiply.com.

For additional information on the hepatitis treatment access program, call the Hepatitis Hotline at 7187620.

 

Source: Philippine Star, August 26, 2011