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Let us Stand Together Against Hepatitis: A Call to Action for May Hepatitis Awareness Month

Let us Stand Together Against Hepatitis: A Call to Action for May Hepatitis Awareness Month

May 23, 2024
Hepatitis B Washington DC (web)

National partners convene in Washington, D.C., for 11th Annual Hepatitis B Summit. Photo by Amy Trang, PhD, MEd, Hep B United.

By Mohammed Abdulkadir MS, MPH 
Hepatitis B Coalition of Washington Coordinator

May marks Hepatitis Awareness Month and offers an opportunity for each of us to reflect upon what we can do to advocate for survivors and ensure that everyone, especially marginalized immigrant communities, have access to Hepatitis B testing, vaccines, and treatment. According to the CDC, before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, viral hepatitis was the deadliest infectious disease in the United States. 

In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, B, and C. While Hepatitis A only causes an acute illness, Hepatitis B and C, which are blood-borne pathogens, meaning their primary mode of transmission is through direct blood-to-blood contact with an infected person, can become chronic. However, studies show that those with chronic Hepatitis B are more likely to die from liver-related complications than those who are infected with Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis B attacks and injures the liver. Symptoms initially could be so mild that many people may not know they have been infected. Almost 300 million people worldwide and 2.4 million people in the U.S. have chronic Hepatitis B, making it the world’s most common serious liver infection. Without appropriate medical management, as many as 1 in 4 people chronically infected with HBV will die from liver cancer or liver failure, resulting in 820,000 deaths in 2019.

Hepatitis B is screenable and vaccine preventable. All of us should advocate for the expansion of services to ensure those most at risk have access to vaccines and screening for this disease.

ID Clinic 2024 Web-30.JPG

In the United States, one study reports that approximately half of the 1 million persons with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection are Asian/Pacific Islanders, most of whom became infected with HBV before arriving in the United States.

“One of the greatest racial health disparities”

The health access gap to Hepatitis B vaccines and treatment “is one of the greatest racial health disparities in the United States,” says the Stanford School of Medicine.

Knowing that vulnerable communities often have the least access to testing, vaccines, and treatment has inspired International Community Health Services (ICHS) to deeply incorporate Hepatitis B prevention into its patient care, says Jenifer Reyes, ICHS Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner.

“Our organization happens to serve patients who are disproportionately affected by Hep B, many immigrants from Asia and East Africa,” said Reyes. “Our providers are not just caring for patients who have chronic Hepatitis B, but we are also proactively catching those who have not been appropriately diagnosed so that they can get the necessary monitoring or treatment and vaccinating those who are not immune.”

In the United States, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and communities from sub-Saharan Africa bear a disproportionate burden of this disease. The CDC's data is sobering: while Asian Americans constitute merely 6% of the US population, they account for over 60% of Americans living with Hepatitis B.

Critically, Asian Americans were almost eight times more likely to die from Hepatitis B than non-Hispanic whites.

Similarly, up to 15% of Hepatitis B is endemic in Africa, where an estimated 82 million people are chronically infected. Migration patterns further complicate the landscape of Hepatitis B in the United States. Today, 12% of people living with chronic Hepatitis B in the US being born in Africa.

These figures underscore the urgent need for tailored strategies to address the needs of diverse communities and ensure equitable access to prevention and care.

B the Voice

The Hepatitis B Foundation has created a video series named “#JustB” which amplifies the voices of those living with hepatitis B and D and their caretakers. “The goal of both campaigns is to raise the profile of hepatitis B as an urgent health priority by putting a human face on this serious illness. We hope to increase advocacy and awareness, decrease stigma and discrimination, and promote testing, vaccination, linkage to care and life-saving treatment.” Watch the video at this link.

What we can do to defeat Hepatitis

One of the most effective ways to combat Hepatitis B is through education and awareness. As we observe Hepatitis Awareness Month, it is crucial that we engage in meaningful conversations about this infection. We must empower ourselves with knowledge, understand our risk factors, and take action to protect our health and the health of those around us.

By learning about the infection, its transmission routes, and the importance of vaccination, we can make informed decisions about our health. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it can also be life-saving.

Getting tested for Hepatitis B is a proactive step that everyone should consider, especially those who may be at higher risk due to factors such as ethnicity, family history, or certain medical conditions. Screening allows for early detection and intervention, which can significantly improve outcomes and prevent the spread of the virus.

Vaccination is another key strategy in the fight against Hepatitis B. It is safe, effective, and readily available. By ensuring that we and our loved ones are vaccinated, we not only protect ourselves but also contribute to the collective effort to eliminate Hepatitis B as a public health threat.

Healthcare providers play a crucial role in this endeavor. We urge them to proactively discuss Hepatitis B with their patients, offer screening when appropriate, and provide guidance on vaccination and management. By integrating Hepatitis B prevention and care into routine practice, providers can help save lives and prevent unnecessary suffering.

Since 2013, International Community Health Services has led the work of the Hepatitis B Coalition of Washington (HBCW), which was created in 1997 and was formerly known as the Washington State Asian Pacific Islander Hepatitis B Task Force. HBCW works with community based organizations, community clinics, health care facilities and health departments to foster Hepatitis B-related care through educational outreach, testing and improving linkage to care services.

The Hepatitis B Coalition of Washington, sponsored by ICHS, brings this message to you. If you have any questions or would like more information about hepatitis B, please reach out to me, Mohammed Abdulkadir, the coordinator of the Hepatitis B Coalition of Washington, or call me at (206) 788-3654.

Together, let us stand up against hepatitis. Let us raise awareness, promote testing and vaccination, and work towards a future free from this preventable disease.


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