Filipinos told to get regular screening for hepatitis

By Alexander Villafania

MAKATI CITY, METRO MANILA—Esperanza Masangkay is already in her 40s when she discovered last year that she had Hepatitis C, a life-threatening viral disease characterized by liver failure.

She contracted it when she gave birth to her youngest son 21 years ago when she got the viral contact via an infected instrument during her caesarian section, she said during a press conference organized by pharmaceutical firm MSD.

Esperanza is just among the few Filipinos who suffer from hepatitis C. Unlike other types, which can be contracted through food, hepatitis C can be contracted through needles and sexual intercourse, and sometimes, through infected hospital equipment during childbirth or blood transfusion.

Esperanza, a housewife with three kids, thought that it was all over for her. The disease took years to manifest in her body and was only discovered when she was being tested for gallstones.

Fearing for the worst, Esperanza nearly decided to hide it from her family, including her husband who is an overseas Filipino worker.

“It was hard to accept. I am a good parent but my husband might think I fooled around. My doctor and another confidant told me to go ahead and break it to my family because I also needed them to understand my situation,” Esperanza said.

She finally decided to discuss it with her children and husband, explaining to them that she contracted it from childbirth.

“I didn’t want my family to think that I was being a bad mother. I was fortunate that my family accepted and supported me to undergo treatment.”

Social stigma associated with hepatitis discourages most sufferers from seeking help, said Dr. Jose Sollano, past president of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP).

It is estimated that about 1.1 million to 1.9 million Filipinos suffering from different forms of hepatitis.

He stressed that sufferers do not have to fear for themselves if they have contracted the disease. Instead, they have to seek medical assistance the soonest as the disease is curable.

“Ordinary people can get infected. Even the simplest act of pedicure could result in infection. But think of what you can do to save your own life and make things better for you if you have yourself screened,” said Sollano.

The HSP will hold free hepatitis screening programs in different hospitals in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao. For its part, the MSD conducted its patient education and persistence program to have more accessible treatment for hepatitis B and C sufferers.

Esperanza said that other people need not to suffer as much as she did and so she advocates all Filipinos to get screened for hepatitis.

“It’s better to know now so that you can prevent it from becoming worse.”

***

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