Free Hep B screening for 1,000 needy as part of first liver disease awareness week

FROM the coming Monday to Saturday, some 1,000 needy people aged 50 and up will get free screenings for Hepatitis B.

Those who test positive will get a free liver scan at a public hospital, and be referred for further care if necessary.

The programme is run by the Hepatopancreatobiliary Association of Singapore, a group of medical specialists across disciplines and from both public and private hospitals who are interested in liver diseases.

Those to be screened are on public assistance and have been selected by grassroots groups at four community centres - Cheng San, Queenstown, Taman Jurong and Kreta Ayer - said association president Stephen Chang of the National University Hospital.

The screening is part of the first Liver Disease Awareness Week here, which began on Sunday, World Hepatitis Day, with a public symposium on liver diseases at the Ministry of Health building.

Hepatitis B is a viral liver illness that if left untreated can contribute to liver cancer. About 80 per cent of liver cancer cases stem from Hepatitis B and C. In Singapore. liver cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths in men and the fifth most common in women.

Overall, about 2.7 per cent of the population are Hepatitis B carriers, a figure that has decreased from 8 per cent or so since 1987 due to widespread vaccination schemes.

At the symposium, Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health, said Hepatitis B vaccinations have been fully subsidised for children at polyclinics since June 1, while adults can tap their Medisave for vaccinations.

However, Hepatitis B medication, laboratory tests and other procedures like ultrasounds are not covered by Medisave, and can cost some $5,000 or so a year.

Mr Derrick Wong, 42, who is a hepatitis B carrier and has liver fibrosis - scarring caused by inflammation - says his medication costs $10 a pill. "I may have to take it for the rest of my life," he said.