Treating more patients across the Asia Pacific – 2018 update
By David Hilmers – Medical Officer
North Korea (DPRK)
One of our team members, Sue Huntley, traveled to the DPRK in September for the scheduled quarterly visit. The treatment program continues to enroll new patients with hepatitis B, and over 1200 individuals are now receiving life-saving therapy.
A new challenge to our efforts was the US State Department’s refusal to grant exemptions to the travel ban to the DPRK for any humanitarian organization beginning in October. Thus, American members of Hepatitis B Free and our US partners were denied permission to travel to the DPRK for the scheduled November visit. We are hopeful that this ban on humanitarian aid will soon be lifted, and we ask your assistance in expressing your concern to legislators over this policy.
A scholarly paper which describes our DPRK program was published online in the journal Gut and Liver in September.
We are pleased to announce that a national program of hepatitis B treatment is beginning. This represents the culmination of several years of hard work on the part of HBF. Two members of the team are currently in Fiji to train local providers and to support local government health officials as this program gets underway.
We see steady progress in the hepatitis B treatment program in Kiribati. Turnover in local medical personnel and a lack of resources always provide challenges in these remote islands. After a successful visit in August, two members of the team are travelling to Kiribati this week for training and patient care. Regular training also takes place through teleconferencing.
Papua New Guinea (PNG)
Another significant advance to report is the approval of a hepatitis B treatment program in the Oro District in PNG. Government endorsement of the project, acquisition of drugs at a discounted price, identification of supporting clinics, and laboratory support have all been achieved. As soon as an import license is approved, treatment with antivirals can begin. The first training session of local providers was accomplished by HBF last week through teleconference. We are hopeful that the drugs will arrive, and patients will start treatment during the first quarter of 2019. A team from HBF will travel to PNG to support the rollout of the program at that time.
Two members of the team will travel to Yangon in December to provide technical support and patient care for patients co-infected with hepatitis C and HIV. Our partners on this project Medical Action Myanmar (MAM) have done an outstanding job of providing patient care, detailed documentation, and management of medications.
A welcome addition to our clinical capabilities was the provision of a FibroTouch transient elastography machine by HI SKY corporation from Beijing, China. This device is more portable and lighter than our current equipment, and, best of all, is battery operated. This will expand our capabilities to test for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.
We are excited about the prospects for the coming year and thank each one of you for your support and encouragement!
The Hepatitis B Free Team
Photo credit: Christian Friends of Korea (2018)