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Chronic hepatitis B virus in the Philippines
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Multiple studies have shown a high prevalence of chronic hepatitis B (CHB) infection in the Philippines, not only in high-risk populations but also in the general population. The most recent national study estimated HBsAg seroprevalence to be 16.7%, corresponding to an estimated 7.3 million CHB adults. The factors underlying the high prevalence of CHB and its sequelae include the inadequate use of vaccination for prevention and the lack of treatment for many Filipinos. Because without medical monitoring and treatment of CHB the risk of progression to liver failure and death is 25-30%, the ultimate medical and societal costs will be very high if the Philippines fails to properly address hepatitis B infection. It will be very important to move forward with programs that can help to ensure universal vaccination of newborns, screening and vaccination nationwide, and monitoring and treatment for CHB persons. It will also be crucial to address transmission of HBV in the health-care setting (via contaminated needles and syringes and inadequately sterilized hospital equipment) and via injection drug use and tattooing. Because of the relatively low average per capita income and the lack of coverage by PhilHealth of outpatient visits and medications, there is an urgent need to move forward with a nationally supported program that includes education for both the general public and health-care workers on liver disease and screening for hepatitis viruses, followed by, as appropriate, vaccination or treatment, with expanded government coverage for these for all those who could not otherwise afford it.