We can beat viral diseases with right info, policies

In June 2012, almost eight years ago, I sponsored the National Liver Cancer and Viral Hepatitis Awareness and Prevention Act, with the primary objective of spreading awareness on liver cancer and viral hepatitis. In that bill, we declared January as the Awareness Month. And today, that is Republic Act No. 10526. This [speech] is a few days delayed because it is actually February 5, but it is my solemn and personal duty to help create and steer awareness on this very deadly virus.

 

Hepatitis B is a potentially deadly virus and the leading cause of liver cancer, liver disease. Per the WHO, about 8.5 million Filipinos are living with Chronic Hepatitis B virus, so for a visual, my dear colleagues, consider that similar to the number of OFWs we have. I am equating them with OFWs. I am simply saying that in terms of number of people who are living with chronic Hepatitis B, ganoon karami ‘yun. WHO’s 2019 shows that 1 in 10, so a tenth, of Filipinos have Chronic Hepatitis B. Hepatitis is a silent killer. It has no symptoms but quietly damages the liver. In fact, what is sad here is that it’s known to hit you at the prime of your life, the productive stages of your life, usually someone in their 40’s. when they are fathers and mothers of their families, when their children are fully dependent on them.

 

WHO data show that hepatitis caused 60 percent of liver cancer ailments in the Philippines in 2019. Many of you will recall that my father was a senator. He was at the prime of his life. He was 68 years old, I think 67, when the Hepatitis B virus that he had at that time mutated and there is no medication for that mutated virus. There is one in the US, but by the time it literally arrived here via FedEx, his liver was very damaged, and it was no longer of use to him. Thus, he was told he needs a liver transplant. And we did that in the United States. My brother Lino, who is now Mayor of Taguig City was my dad’s surprise donor. My dad did not know that Lino was his donor.

 

So, we had that liver transplant in 2003, and those who are not familiar with liver cancer, with liver transplants, Lino lived with a third of his liver, because he gave two-thirds of his liver to my dad. And that is possible. Interestingly enough, four months after his liver transplant, Lino and I ran a duathlon. We were told he was the first liver donor who was able to do such a physical feat. Sadly, although the procedure was very successful, and if you look at the color of my dad there [gestures to screen visuals] versus the picture before that, he was healthy and he was recovering. But apparently, some of the cancer cells might have been microscopic size, and they were probably in other parts of his body, so he was eventually diagnosed with stomach cancer and that’s the cause of his death.

 

Fast forward, I became a senator in 2004 and at that time, my dad had just passed away, and it was one of my passions, one of my personal convictions, that I would also help spread information about this virus. I found out that the budget allotted for Hepatitis B vaccination was about to run out because at that time it was sponsored by UNICEF. And without a budget coming from Congress, the children, the millions of children that were now vaccinated by the funding of UNICEF would run out. So, by our initiatives, along with a lot of medical practitioners and advocates, we were able to eventually include this as part of the regular budget of the DOH. And then, eventually, we were able to pass a law where we provided more details on the importance of the Hepatitis B vaccination that must be administered within 24 hours of birth, because the most common mode of transmission is from mother to child. So, if a child, a baby is vaccinated within 24 hours, they get that immunity. My dear colleagues, there is so much more that we can do to save lives against these diseases. Per UNICEF’s 2018 report, the proportion of Filipino children aged 12 to 23 months who received basic vaccinations including Hepatitis B dropped from 77 percent in 2013 to 70 percent.

 

My dear colleagues, you will recall that for the past decade, we are already around 90 percent. And in previous deliberations in the Senate floor, including the one I had with the Senate Minority Floor Leader, we established the fact that our vaccination rates have gone down, and it includes Hepatitis B and many others. The percentage of children with no vaccination also rose from 4 percent in 2013 to 9 percent in 2017. And that is why you will also see the rise in the case of polio.

 

There was a case reported in the papers two weeks ago about a child who was immunized with the polio vaccine, and yet got polio. What I want to emphasize, because I didn’t find the explanation of DOH to be as clearly as it could have been, the herd immunity that was created when there is a high level of vaccination does not work if there is a low level of vaccination. So, itong bata, kahit pinabakuna siya ng nanay niya, ‘yung mga classmate niya, mga kapitbahay niya, hindi nabakunahan. Siya ngayon, with poor health, kapag hindi maganda ang kalusugan natin, tayo ang pinaka-vulnerable. Kahit napabakunahan, wala nang herd immunity. Kaya naman, vaccination for all is very, very important.

 

I will now stress that this is part of our commitments under our objectives to have sustainable development in our country, including the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal Number 3 is to ensure healthy lives and promote wellness for all ages. This includes ending the epidemics on AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases, and combating hepatitis, waterborne diseases, and other communicable diseases. It also includes reducing by one-third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment, and through the promotion of mental health and well-being.

 

So, my dear colleagues, there is so much for us to do, but with increased awareness, and the right information, because just the other day also, I read that the WHO has issued a statement that we are also in the epidemic situation on the spread of wrong information. So, the spread of wrong information is just as deadly as the spread of the virus itself. That’s why I emphasize increased awareness with the right information, and implementation of our policies and our laws with the help of everyone. Mr. President, I believe we can beat viral Hepatitis and other communicable diseases including the novel coronavirus.

Cayetano: World Health Organization data in 2019 data show that 1 in 10 of Filipinos have Chronic Hepatitis B. Hepatitis is a silent killer.
Cayetano: The spread of wrong information is just as deadly as the spread of the virus itself.

As polio returns, Pia presses intensified info drive on vaccination

Senator Pia S. Cayetano is strongly urging health officials to step up their efforts in convincing Filipino mothers to have their kids vaccinated, following the health department’s declaration of a polio epidemic in the country.

The principal author and sponsor of the Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act (RA 10152), Cayetano expressed  alarm that the Philippines has lost its polio-free status.

The senator made the call after the Department of Health (DOH) reported that a 3-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur was recently diagnosed with polio, marking the return of the dreaded illness to the country after two decades. 

Exactly a month ago (August 19), Cayetano delivered a privilege speech in the Senate to call attention to  the risks brought about by the country’s deteriorating vaccination rates, particularly for the poliovirus. 

In her speech, she said if mothers continue to refuse having their children immunized, the spread of the virus could just be “a snap of a finger away.”

“Since the year 2000, we have already been declared polio-free. My children grew up at a time where there was no more polio. After 19 years, it’s so sad that this (disease) may actually come back,” she stressed.

“All these diseases have already been eradicated or are close to being eradicated because we’ve had a successful vaccination program throughout the decades. But now, mothers are suddenly not bringing their children to the health centers to be vaccinated,” she added.

As early as the 2019 campaign period, the senator has been going around the country reminding health workers on the ground to educate mothers about the importance of vaccination. 

“Because of the (dengue vaccine) scare, ang conclusion ng mga nanay ay masama na ang lahat ng bakuna. But time and again, we kept on repeating that this is not true,” she said.

Cayetano called upon the DOH and local government officials to conduct more enticing information drives to keep promoting the government’s immunization program.

“As public servants, we are tasked to ensure that the welfare and health of our children are properly protected. So if we need to shake things up a bit, I think we really should,” she said, reiterating her call a month ago.

“We deprive the life of these children – a life that could be spent climbing trees, playing sports, or enjoying other physical activities – if we let their mothers disregard the importance of vaccination,” she added.#

A month ago, Cayetano delivered a privilege speech in the Senate to call attention to  the risks brought about by the country’s deteriorating vaccination rates, particularly for the poliovirus. 
Cayetano called upon the DOH and local government officials to conduct more enticing information drives to keep promoting the government’s immunization program.

Speech on falling polio vaccination rates

Privilege speech by Senator Pia S. Cayetano

Thank you, Mr President.

I just decided on my way here to deliver this privilege speech as I was reading the news. It caught my attention that the Department of Health (DOH) has issued a warning to all of us that we are in danger of losing our polio-free status. 

So since the year 2000, we have already been declared as polio-free, which was something that really delighted me because I actually grew up with a classmate who has polio.

She was the only one in our school who could not join us for physical activities on a regular basis. So kung kami, mga nagtatakbuhan, mga naglalaro, she could not join us.

So I asked my staff to just quickly pull out some pictures. Let’s start with the image of what life should be like for a normal child. [Photos of kids playing flashed on screen] 

They should be able to run, to tumble, to play games, to stand up, to fall, to climb trees – all of which I was able to do. 

And yet, during the time of my father, and like I said, inabot ko pa, we still had polio during that time. I would imagine some of our colleagues would remember this. But so happily, my children grew up in a time that there was no more polio. And I’m so happy and I’m so proud of that.

Then some time, early this year, late last year, when we received the news that there was an outbreak of measles, what came to my mind was not just measles. What came to my mind was all the ailments that have been eradicated or are close to being eradicated because we have had a very successful vaccination program throughout the decades in our country. 

So I was so scared that during the campaign, I actually would really emphasize this among health workers, the importance of convincing mothers of the importance of vaccination. 

And I was saddened to find out that my biggest fear was true. It wasn’t just measles. Mothers were not bringing their children to the health centers to be vaccinated for all the vaccines, not just measles. Nauna lang yung outbreak ng measles. 

But because of the Dengvaxia scare, ang conclusion ng mga Nanay, masama na lahat ng bakuna, which time and again, we kept on repeating, that that is not true. 

Now, what made the mothers change their mind? It was not any campaign, as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t a campaign of DOH, it wasn’t my campaign. It wasn’t anybody’s campaign. It was the reality that children started dying from measles. And that’s when napaisip yung mga mothers na, “Eh ano ba talaga, matatakot ba ako sa bakuna dahil sa narinig ko sa Dengvaxia o matatakot ako na hindi ko napabakunahan ang anak ko dahil ito na, nagkandamatay na yung ibang bata sa measles?”

And that’s when on their own, they started going to the health centers to have their children vaccinated for measles and hopefully the rest. So this time, when I would talk to mothers, they would be nodding their heads and they said that they would be vaccinating their children. 

So now, I am saddened to get the confirmation that this deterioration in our vaccination rate is also seen in polio. And after 19 years, it’s so sad that this may actually come back. 

Just for the record, DOH has identified priority regions, they have put together a campaign. But I really want to call upon DOH to really have visually enticing pictures. In fact, for lack of a better example, creativity and advertising [are] not my… forte. But similar to the pictures that you see in cigarettes, which is a product of our work with former Senate President Drilon and the current Senate President. Both of you helped me in getting that graphic warning bill [on cigarette packs] passed into law.

Similar to that, I was thinking, should I now call upon food companies to put these pictures on products that mothers and children are buying to remind them how important vaccination is? 

Again, it’s not my place. I am not the advertising expert here. But I, and my 23 other colleagues, are tasked to ensure that the welfare and health of our children are protected. So if we need to shake things up a bit, I think we really should. 

If we need to put these in billboards all over the country. We should put these on billboards. Kasi ‘pag hindi niyo pinabakunahan yung anak niyo, baka ganyan yung mangyari. 

I mean, I only gave my staff three minutes to pull out some pictures that are available. I don’t know if somebody can refresh my mind. About a year ago, in a long plane trip, which is my only time to catch up on movies, this very well-done movie on polio at the turn of the century, I think it was maybe in the early 1900’s, it showed these people paralyzed from head to foot, just lying in bed, just literally waiting to die. 

It showed how they lived their life that way, because they were victims of polio. And we don’t see that because today, in this age, there is no polio in the Philippines. But it’s a snap of a finger away, Mr. President. 

I won’t go on about the technicalities, beyond the reality that we deprive the life of these children, a life that could be spent climbing trees, playing piko, playing patintero, maybe even becoming a Southeast Asian Games or Olympic Games champion, if their mothers or their parents do not feel the importance of vaccination.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Senator Pia Cayetano says the measles outbreak was the result of falling herd immunity among Filipinos, as she warns against the possible return of polio.

Pia backs better health promotion vs outbreaks

Senator Pia S. Cayetano on Wednesday (August 7) urged the health department to take advantage of available resources to strengthen its information drive on the importance of government’s expanded program on immunization (EPI).

The senator said this during the first public hearing of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, and amid the Department of Health’s (DOH) declaration of a national dengue epidemic in the country. 

Cayetano lamented that the recent outbreak of diseases in the country was caused by the decline in people’s confidence in vaccines. 

“I had the opportunity to talk to barangay health workers all over the country. And the biggest problem [they mentioned] is that the mothers were scared. [They] refused to have their children vaccinated with measles and many other vaccines because of the [Dengvaxia scare],” she said.

The principal author and sponsor of the Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act (RA 10152), Cayetano stressed the need to properly inform Filipino families about the importance of vaccination in saving their children’s lives. 

To help restore people’s trust in vaccines, she urged the DOH and other concerned agencies to find more creative and aggressive ways in promoting the government’s immunization program. 

“We have a budget through the Sin Tax Reform Law (RA 10351), which we passed years ago for health promotion. I may not have seen it, but I would like to see really exciting and engaging infomercials, cartoons, or even dramas, that would help mothers appreciate the importance of vaccination,” Cayetano said.

“We passed the law precisely because we wanted to ensure that the budget moving forward would include [sufficient funds] for vaccinations… The budget for health promotions is there, let’s really make this engaging,” she added.

‘Improving children’s health increases chances vs dengue, other ailments’

Meanwhile, Cayetano said another critical part of preventing outbreaks like dengue fever in the country is for the government to improve Filipino children’s health and nutrition.

“At the end of the day it is the immune system [that needs to be strong]. The first thing we can do is to make sure our children are healthy enough,” the senator said. 

The DOH pointed out during the committee hearing that one in three Filipino children remains stunted. The department said this figure has not improved in the last 15 years.

“To bring up the level of health of every child is the first thing we can do to help them fight the [dengue] battle. That is our long-term solution. We can’t wipe out dengue in a day or in a year. But we can make our children healthier with more resources,” Cayetano stressed.

The senator then called for a strengthened implementation of the government’s programs on children’s health and nutrition, which she said also forms part of the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. 

The DOH for its part reminded the public to follow the “4S strategy” against dengue, which stands for “search and destroy” mosquito-breeding sites, “self-protection measures” like wearing covered clothes and using mosquito repellent, “seek early consultation”, and “support fogging/spraying” in hotspot areas. #

Senator Pia Cayetano: We can’t wipe out dengue in a day or in a year. But we can protect our children with more resources poured into health promotion.

Stay vigilant against measles outbreak

Senatorial aspirant Pia S. Cayetano urged Filipino families to remain vigilant about the spread of measles in their communities, even after measles cases have started to drop in the past weeks.

The Department of Health (DOH) recently reported that there is already a downward trend in the number of new measles cases in the country, owing to the agency’s intensified immunization campaign.

The principal author and sponsor of Republic Act 10152 or the Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act, Cayetano commended the efforts of the DOH, local officials, and barangay health workers on the ground in convincing Filipino parents to have their children vaccinated.

On the other hand, she stressed that there is still no room for complacency when it comes to protecting the children from diseases.

“We are very delighted by DOH’s report that measles cases in the country are already decreasing. But everyone should continue to be vigilant, ready, and non-complacent,” she said in a radio interview in Butuan City.

“Kailangan bumalik nang tuluyan ang kumpyansa sa bakuna. Dahil hindi lang tigdas ang maaaring maging panganib sa buhay ng mga anak natin, marami pang ibang delikadong sakit na pwede namang iwasan sa tulong ng bakuna,” she added.

Cayetano has long been fighting for the promotion of preventive healthcare measures for Filipino families as a way to save them from premature deaths and unnecessary illnesses.

“During my first term in the Senate, I decided to fight for laws that sought to protect children from various diseases, because I do not want to see any child dying despite the presence of preventive measures and solutions like vaccines,” she said.

Even before news broke out regarding the outbreak of measles in several provinces, Cayetano had been going around the country convincing Filipino families to restore their trust in vaccines.

In February, she had led an immunization drive for young children at the Rural Health Unit 3 of Barangay Mabiga in Mabalacat, Pampanga.#

File photo: Mass vaccination program in Mabalacat, Pampanga.