If two Filipinos are to be tested for hepatitis B, the one who is getting less annual salary is more likely to be tested positive than his richer counterpart, according to a study.

People usually measure the gap between the rich and poor in terms of what they can readily observe. One drives a car while the other commutes. One buys a house while the other rents. One dines at fine dining; the other boils instant noodles for dinner.

But a collaborations of researchers from various academic and medical institutions explained that evidence of gap between the two social classes may not be as obvious as the examples above, such as in the prevalence of hepatitis B.

A seroprevalence study of 2,150 randomly selected participants nationwide showed that poor Filipinos are disproportionately infected by hepatitis B as compared to others who have bigger annual income.

Describing annual income as the only predictor of the likelihood to testing positive in hepatitis B test, the researchers explained that the phenomenon reflects inequity in the access of healthcare.

Researchers discussed that health care services such as preventive vaccination are often neglected by or inaccessible for people at the lower socioeconomic levels. Poor Filipinos are more likely to miss or delay the hepatitis B vaccination (HBV), giving a window of opportunity of contracting the hepatitis B infection.

In a country where people living below the poverty line hovers around 27%, researchers insisted on the importance of government-subsidized actions that focuses on prevention of the disease.

Treatment and management of a patient with liver cirrhosis due to hepa B infection can range from US$185-1,321 in Asian countries like the Philippines. The cost can skyrocket to US$49,000-66,000 if the patient needs a liver transplant. Researchers lamented that the staggering cost of treatment, management and liver transplant usually falls in the shoulder of the patient with very little government assistance.

Arguing with the old adage that “prevention is always better than cure,” researchers insisted that focusing on preventive measures such as immunization programs would be more cost-effective to implement than coverage for treatment on full blown liver diseases.

Citing the success of immunization programs in decreasing the prevalence of hepatitis B infection in Northeast China and South Korea, researchers expressed their support to the Philippines’ Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which include universal infant vaccination with HBV.

Reference:

Wong, S., Ong, J., Labio, M., Cabahug, O., Daez, M., Valdellon, E., Sollano, J., & Arguillas, M. (20013). Hepatitis B infection among adults in the Philippines: a national seroprevalence study. World Journal of Hepatology, 5(4), 214–219.

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