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.