Working with like-minded parliamentarians to raise awareness on these three global public health threats allows us to assist and learn from one another
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) opens up opportunities for Members of Parliament (MPs) across the world to engage each other and work collectively to address a number of broad global issues, as well as specific and common concerns of members in their respective country or region.
One of the offshoots of the IPU assemblies is the formation of networks or groups, organized by MPs based on a variety of advocacies and issues that are significant to them. The network allows members to exchange information and learn from the experiences of one another. It also serves to facilitate support and encourage coordinated action among members.
One such group is UNITE, the Parliamentarians Network to End HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis and Tuberculosis. A non-profit, non-partisan global alliance of parliamentarians, UNITE is committed to the elimination of these three diseases as public threats by 2030. The group makes parallel efforts to help keep HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis a high priority in the agenda of governments, media and public discourse.
At the 137th IPU assembly, I linked up with UNITE and shared with the group our own experience to address these three urgent public health concerns.
The Philippines is an HIV/AIDS flashpoint, with around 30 new infections detected per day, according to the health department. The 140% rise in the number of new infections between 2010 to 2016 ranks as the highest HIV infection growth rate among countries in the Asia-Pacific, according to the United Nations.
On the other hand, tuberculosis is a health menace that won’t go away. Despite the huge progress the country has made in combatting the disease, TB remains one of the major causes of death among Filipinos. Per the DOH, TB killed 14,000 in 2015, while 4.8 million, mostly poor, contacted the disease.
Lastly, viral hepatitis, a topic that is very close to me. I lost my father, the late Senator Renato Companero Cayetano, from complications of Hepatitis B more than a decade ago. When I ran for the Senate, one of my priorities was to work on legislation on this deadly disease. I pushed for the passage of the law on mandatory Hepa B vaccination for infants, Republic Act 10152. I also sat down with various stakeholders, including patients, medical experts, the health and labor departments, and employers’ groups to work out a policy to protect hepatitis carriers against discrimination in the workplace. Much work remains to be done to raise awareness and mitigate the spread of the hepa virus. Latest available data show that viral hepatitis prevalence in the Philippines is at 16.7%, a rate that is considered ‘high’ by experts.
The elimination of infectious illness, including HIV/AIDS, TB and viral hepatitis, is one of the health targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving this target requires a comprehensive response from governments, in coordination with policymakers, stakeholders and the general public. Working with like-minded parliamentarians under the UNITE network is definitely a step in the right direction.
‘Philippines has highest HIV infection growth rate in Asia-Pacific: UN,’ Reuters, August 1, 2017 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-aids-philippines/philippines-has-highest-hiv-infection-growth-rate-in-asia-pacific-u-n-idUSKBN1AH3CW
‘DOH: TB still major cause of death among Pinoys,’ by Jess Diaz, Philippine Star, April 16, 2017 http://www.philstar.com/nation/2017/04/16/1690631/doh-tb-still-major-cause-death-among-pinoys
‘Doctors call for increased govt support for treatment vs. viral hepatitis,’ GMA News Online, January 27, 2015 http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/lifestyle/healthandwellness/417746/doctors-call-for-increased-govt-support-for-treatment-vs-viral-hepatitis/story/
UNITE Network website: http://www.unitenetwork.org