Sufferers Count Costs of Living With the Disease

The Jakarta Globe

Sufferers Count Costs of Living With the Disease

Elisabeth Oktofani & Dessy Sagita

Andriana Bintang has gotten used to taking entecavir first thing in the morning when she wakes up. Having been diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2008, the 28-year-old said it was something she simply had to learn to live with.

“Although it is very frustrating having to take medication every morning, I have to do it,” she said. “This is a decision that I made a couple of years ago, as I want to live longer and be healthier.”

Andriana is one of a growing number of Indonesians living with hepatitis B, but one of the few who can afford the medicine to treat the disease.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the Health Ministry’s director general for disease control and environmental health, said about 30 million people in the country were infected with some strain of the hepatitis virus. The disease attacks the liver and can progress to organ failure or cancer.

Half of those infected suffer from serious liver problems, he said, with some 1.5 million people at high risk of developing liver cancer.

Indonesia now has the third highest number of hepatitis B and C cases in the world. Only China and India have more.

Worldwide, an estimated 170 million people — one-twelfth of the global population — have either hepatitis B or C, according to World Health Organization figures. Some 1.5 million people die of the infections annually.

One of the major problems is that treatment for the disease is expensive.

Andriana, who began taking medication early in 2009, said she spends Rp 2.2 million ($260) for 30 pills each month.

“My life is not cheap, because I have to spend more than half of my salary on the medication, but I hope that the treatment can be made cheaper soon,” she said.

Tjandra said the government was working to make hepatitis drugs cheaper, but chances of a free hepatitis vaccine for adults remain slim without additional funding.

The vaccine for hepatitis strains A and B — there is no vaccine for type C — requires three shots at a cost of Rp 80,000 a shot.

The Health Ministry has declared that hepatitis poses a serious threat to the nation and, since 2003, has included the hepatitis vaccine on the list of mandatory basic immunizations required for all newborns.

Andriana, who has a 1-year-old son, said she made sure her child was vaccinated soon after he was born.

“When my son was born, I ensured that he got vaccinated in the hospital because I did not want him to get infected as it can never be cured,” she said.

“Other than that, I have to always remember to renew the vaccine once every 10 years because that is the only way to prevent him for getting infected with hepatitis B,” Andriana said.

“Life with hepatitis B is expensive.” 

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