UPDATED:  August 2, 2009 7:26 PM
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Solons Urge Hepatitis B Screening

By: Amanda L. Andrei

WASHINGTON–Lawmakers joined some 70 others who took part in a free public hepatitis screening at the Capitol here last July 21. One in ten Asian Pacific Americans –compared with one out of 20 nationally–is infected with Hepatitis B or C, and the event served to educate legislators and raise public awareness on the issue.

Congressmen Mike Honda (D-CA), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA), David Wu (D-OR), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Donna Edwards (D-MD) stressed the urgent need to address the silent epidemic of chronic HBV and HCV in the country.

As a co-host of the Capitol Hill screening, Congressman David Wu (D, OR) stressed “testing is essential to early detection and appropriate treatment.”

AAPCHO Executive Director Jeff Caballero said the event was “an important milestone.” He noted it was “the beginning of a unified effort between the community advocates and our congressional champions.”

Several groups co-sponsored the event: Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (www.aapcho.org); Caring Ambassadors (www.hepchallenge.org); Chinese American Medical Society (www.camsociety.org); Hepatitis B Foundation (www.hepb.org); Hepatitis B Initiative (www.hepbinitiative.org); Hepatitis Education Project (www.hepeducation.org); National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (www.nastad.org); National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (www.nvhr.org).


‘Silent organ’

Annually, over 24,000 HBV-infected women give birth and transmit the disease, often unknowingly, to their babies. Half of these mothers are of Asian descent. Chari Cohen, senior program manager for the Hepatitis B Foundation, said, “The liver is a silent organ,” adding people may not know they have Hepatitis B until they have cirrhosis.

The hepatitis viruses attack the liver and can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and cancer, with Hepatitis B accounting for 80 percent of liver cancer diagnoses. Hepatitis C is ten times as infectious as HIV/AIDS. HB virus is a hundred times as infectious.

Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through unprotected sex, unsanitary needles used for tattooing or shared drug use. In the APA community, it is through contact with the virus when traveling from countries where the disease is endemic, or from an infected pregnant mother passing on the disease to the child.  

Preventive measures

Measures to educate communities target inter-ethnic and inter-generational groups. Dr. Mark Li of the Chinese American Medical Society (Mid-Atlantic chapter) said in 2003, he worked with Montgomery County, the Asian American Health Initiative, and other health organizations to set up ten different outreach points targeting seven different Asian American communities. Over 800 people were screened for the viruses.

Jane Pan, executive director of Hepatitis B Initiative-DC, recalled an effective summer school program, where a one-hour seminar educated children of Chinese and Vietnamese families about Hepatitis B and distributed information in different languages for the target audiences.

“We try to find culturally sensitive ways to help Asian Americans,” said Dr. Jennifer Lee. Screenings were held in churches, for example. Caring Ambassadors provides culturally sensitive materials for a wide range of audiences. Chris Taylor, senior manager at the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors and NVHR Chair, stressed incorporating existing healthcare system with Hepatitis B and C prevention and treatment.  

National solution

There is no federally funded system for monitoring chronic HBV and HCV. There are also no federal funds for an HAV or HBV adult vaccine, and there’s no HCV vaccine at all. “The Center for Disease Control has paid attention to the issue,” said Congressman Honda. Recently, he added a provision on the hepatitis viruses to the national healthcare reform bill.

Corinna Dan, AAPCHO Hepatitis B Policy Fellow, said in the last three months organizations have been working together for a bill combining both Hepatitis B and C concerns and solutions. “It’s a simple answer—more awareness and screening,” he said.

This is a disease the changes history,” said Dr. Li. Recalling Sun Yat-sen, doctor and political leader who led the revolution in China and helped overthrow the Qing dynasty, Dr. Li commented, “He died at 59 of liver cancer. And I always wondered: if he lived another ten years, what would China be like?”  

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