Press Release
September 19, 2010

Pia seeks mandatory Hepa-B immunization for babies
within 24 hours from birth

Up to eight million Filipinos are carriers of the Hepatitis B Virus (HPV) and could be spreading the highly infectious disease without them knowing it.

Thus warned Senator Pia S. Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, who is pushing for the passage of Senate Bill No.138, "An Act Requiring Immunization Services Against Hepatitis B for Infants."

"Hepatitis B is a public health problem that is silently stalking our people. The disease is endemic in our country and affects around 16 percent of the population. HPV can cause life-long infection, cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure and ultimately, death."

The disease can spread fast, she added. "A single virus particle can cause infection and can be transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids like seminal fluid, vaginal secretions, tears, saliva and open sores."

SBN 138 has been submitted for plenary discussion in the Senate as Committee Report No. 3. Aside from Cayetano, the measure lists as co-authors senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Francis Escudero.

Among the victims of Hepa B in recent years was the lady senator's father, the late Senator Compañero Rene Cayetano, who passed away in 2003.

"Hepatitis B is a debilitating disease which inflicts physical and emotional anguish on the patient. Family members likewise suffer from seeing their loved ones in pain. The treatment is also financially draining. All these I have personally experienced as my father was afflicted with this ailment," she recounted.

Cayetano stressed that the government can do something to arrest the spread of the disease by intensifying its vaccination program.

"Research shows that immunizing a newborn within 24 hours from birth is the most effective preventive measure against the Hepa-B virus. Health experts all agree that only an immunization program which is implemented at the ground level can effectively decrease the number of Hepatitis B infections."

She explained that Presidential Decree No. 996 issued in 1976 made basic immunization services in the country compulsory for infants and children below eight years old. The decree was later amended by Republic Act 7846 which expanded the scope of basic immunization services to include Hepa B vaccination. The law however limited the coverage only to newborn infants of women who are positive with Hepatitis B.

But in public hearings and consultations conducted by the health committee, liver disease experts unanimously recommended the immunization of all infants, whether or not born of mothers who tested positive for the virus.

She also pointed out that a single dose of the vaccine will only cost around P15, a very small price to pay for government to advance efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

And because there is still a considerable number of mothers who give birth in their homes with the help of traditional 'hilot,' SBN 138 includes a provision requiring that infants born outside of medical institutions should be immunized within 24 hours and no later than seven days from birth.

"Hepatitis B may be fatal, but it is curable and preventable. Prevention and early detection are the keys to saving lives from Hepa B. We no longer want our children and the next generation to suffer from this disease," she concluded.

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