Manila, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH), in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP), and Yellow Warriors Society Philippines launches an awareness campaign in observance of World Hepatitis Day.

This year, the focus of DOH is to inform pregnant women and their immediate families about the importance of vaccinating newborn infants 24 hours from birth to lessen the risk of children acquiring Hepatitis B virus very early in life. Over 90% of children exposed to hepatitis B will suffer from life-long infection.

DOH health facilities across the country will administer its initial vaccination activities on newborns within 24 hours after birth and will educate mothers on the importance of birth dose vaccination. Free vaccines against Hepatitis B are available in DOH hospitals nationwide. Hepatitis B vaccine birth dose is already included in PHILHEALTH’s Newborn Care Package (NCP).

“Although the birth dose vaccination program is already in place for many years now, the coverage is still too low at 51% in 2015 despite the availability of these vaccines for free in DOH facilities. I encourage all mothers-to-be and their loved ones to demand fromhealth workers that their newborns be immunized against Hepatitis B within 24 hours after birth. DOH Hospitals are also reminded that supply of vaccines must be readily available.” Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial explained.

Succeeding doses of Hepatitis B are administered to infants at age 1 ½ month, 2 ½ months and 3 ½ months in the form of a combination vaccine – Pentavalent vaccine (Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Haemophilus influenzae B, Hepatitis B).

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. Most acute hepatitis B infections are without symptoms or cause mild illnesses that mostly remain unnoticed. Other times the virus causes a long-term infection, which is chronic hepatitis B. Over time, it can damage a person’s liver (cirrhosis). Babies and young children infected with the virus are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B.

In the Philippines, Hepatitis B is a significant public health problem. It is the leading cause of liver damage and the leading of cause of liver cancer. Experts say that about 7.3 million Filipinos are chronically infected with Hepatitis B.

Secretary Ubial explained that hepatitis B is transmitted thru: (1) an infected mother who can pass the virus to her baby; (2) sex without using a condom; (3) contaminated blood transfusion; (4) sharing of contaminated needles especially among persons who inject drugs; (5) tattoing or piercing when tools used are contaminated; and (6) sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes.

“We know that all vaccines have the potential to bring us that much closer to a world where millions of children no longer die from causes we could prevent. Let us support hepatitis B birth dose vaccination. Sa Unang 24 Oras, Bakunahan si Baby Kontra Hepa B!” Secretary Ubial concluded.