Yellow Warriors’ fight not just virus but also stigma of Hepa B
Yellow is the color of courage for some people whose daily lives have been shaped by the physical and emotional challenges of battling Hepatitis B.
For members of the Yellow Warriors Society Philippines (YWSP), the condition should not be considered a cause for shame. The group is founded on the belief that the disease—and the stigma associated with it—could be overcome, if not eradicated in the country.
YWSP is a national organization of Hepatitis B and C sufferers who have become advocates particularly against the “discrimination” they face in their community, workplace or even in their own homes.
Registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a nonprofit organization, the group draws its name from the yellowish skin tone characterizing a person infected with the disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus or HBV.
YWSP vice chair Eric Ueda, a 35-year-old lawyer, was diagnosed with the disease in 2005, its first signs detected during the screening process when he was about to donate blood for a friend. “At first, I didn’t know how to react because I lacked knowledge about the disease. I didn’t even know how or where I got it.”
Troubled, he decided to do some research. “When I realized that it has no cure and it may even lead to liver cirrhosis or death, I felt a chill down my spine,” he said.
But the initial scare led to a brave decision not to allow the disease to dictate what he can or cannot do. Of course, it was not that easy since he had to overcome numerous hurdles to maintain normalcy in his life.
Isolated in own home
In a recent interview in Mandaluyong City, Ueda recounted the isolation he had endured right within his own household. “When I told my family I had hepatitis, one of my siblings immediately separated my utensils. He thought they could catch the disease by using my things,” Ueda said.
He said he had to explain to his family that there was no need to separate his stuff because Hepatitis B cannot be transmitted through mere exchange of saliva.
A person risks infection through transmission of infected blood, sexual intercourse and contact with open sores, he said.
In 2006, the lawyer suffered another blow because of his condition, when he applied for work abroad but was immediately turned down when the company learned he was positive for Hepatitis B.
It was at this point that he thought of organizing a support group for people in similar predicaments. He started with his online friends—Christopher Malco, Mario Gamboa, Alfred Lopez, Joel Ordonio and Darwin Lin—who shared the same bitter experiences.
500 members nationwide
This led to the creation of YWSP, which is currently based in Baguio City and is recognized as a voting member of the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) based in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2013, the group became an affiliate of the Coalition for the Eradication of Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific (Cevhap).
Ueda, together with his support group, became a pioneer incorporator of YWSP, which now counts about 500 members nationwide.
“We are individually battling the virus in our lives, [so] we are warriors in our own rights,” Ueda said.
Among YWSP’s primary goals is to fight discrimination against those who are infected. Ueda said that, like him, many others have been denied employment opportunities, their application “automatically thumbed down.”
But not all cases end in defeat. Ueda said he assisted a YWSP member in filing a labor case for illegal dismissal in June. The case ended in a settlement.
“Legally, it is hard to combat the problem because under our labor code, the preemployment stage is subject to management or employer prerogative. However, an advisory from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has already reversed the said prerogative,” he said.
Aside from legal assistance, YWSP also provides other services to members like counseling, health seminars and medical referrals.
Ueda was in Mandaluyong City last week for another YWSP achievement, when it became a local government partner in fighting all forms of discrimination against any worker based on his or her Hepatitis B condition.
The campaign was spelled out in a resolution authored by District 1 Councilor Charisse Abalos, who also called on Congress to pour more funding into the healthcare system particularly for people like Ueda.
“Our government should be more active in addressing hepatitis as a major health problem by having a clear and comprehensive plan to eradicate hepatitis and stopping the discrimination of members of the labor force who have Hepatitis B,” Abalos said. “Our role is to lift people who have contracted the disease from a state of hopelessness.”
Echoing the councilor’s call, Ueda said Philhealth, for example, should include and cover patients with hepatitis and local government units should have localized programs addressing this problem.
Though Ueda admits that the Yellow Warriors are just a small voice among the healthcare crusaders in the country, he still believes that they will be heard by the right people.
“We plan to create more awareness regarding the problem and support those individuals who have hepatitis in every possible way we can to help them have a more positive outlook in life.”
The Yellow Warriors can be reached at 0922-8710906 and their projects and activities can be seen at www.yellowwarriors.webs.com.
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