- Published in Opinion & Community
A spin-off of San Francisco Hep B Free program to unite the San Francisco Bay Area in the fight against hepatitis B and liver cancer by raising awareness of the single largest health disparity within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community was launched recently in San Mateo County,
Dubbed as Hep B Free – Bay Area, the program also seeks to create a unified voice to encourage screening and vaccination, and improve health outcomes throughout the Bay Area to make the San Francisco Bay Area free of hepatitis B.
San Francisco Hep B Free – Bay Area Program Coordinator Richard So announced that what they underscore is that the San Francisco’s Asian and Pacific Islander residents that comprise of 34 percent of the City’s population bear a disproportionate burden of liver cancer and undetected hepatitis B infection.
“In the United States, 1 in 12 Asian Americans is chronically infected with hepatitis B in comparison to 1 in 1000 non-Hispanic Whites. While Asian Americans constitute only 4% of the population in the United States, they comprise over half of the nation’s 1.2-2 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B. This is one of the greatest racial health disparities in the United States. Fortunately, hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease. A safe and effective vaccine has been available since 1982,” shared So. “SF Hep B Free - Bay Area is a new re-branding of SF Hep B Free to unite all Bay Area efforts starting this month. San Mateo County is the first official expansion under this new banner and falls directly under SF Hep B Free leadership. We have a set of metrics we are determined to accomplish in year 1, but we are eagerly planning to surpass that.”
According to a page devoted on Hepa B by the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University, the first non-profit organization in the United States that addresses the disproportionately high rates of chronic hepatitis B infection and liver cancer in Asians and Asian Americans, “Hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease of the liver and leading cause of liver cancer worldwide caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).”
Its initial HBV infection or acute infection symptoms could be so mild that many people including their doctors may not know they have been infected but could result in an illness with symptoms of fatigue, lost of appetite, dark urine and yellow discoloration of the eyes, lasting for several months and even death from liver failure.
It is estimated that 1 in 30 people worldwide or approximately 240 million individuals is living with chronic hepatitis B which causes 60-80% of liver cancer cases worldwide and 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 about 600,000 to a million deaths annually.
The campaign was launched in San Francisco in 2007 to promote collaboration between government, healthcare groups, community organizations and businesses to end viral hepatitis B disease and serves as a model nationally for (1) creating public and healthcare provider awareness about the importance of testing & vaccinating Asian and Pacific Islanders for hepatitis B; (2) promoting routine hepatitis B screenings and vaccinations within the primary care medical community; and (3) facilitating access to treatment for chronically infected individuals.
“For us, we wish we did not have to be here. Hepatitis B shouldn't be killing people anymore. A vaccine that can prevent liver cancer induced by hepatitis B has been there since 1982, screening is simple and free but must be requested from your health care provider but there is no cure. Treatment of chronic infection does exist in the form of a 1-a-day pill and is affordable with good insurance,” So added. “It is most commonly spread from mother to child at birth if the child does not get the hepatitis B vaccine soon after birth. It can also be spread from sex, and contaminated injection drug equipment, although this is less common.”
So believes that even with the advancement in research for screening of and vaccine for Hepa B, stigma still exists around hepatitis B for it is still seen in many countries outside the US as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or injection drug disease and associated with promiscuity, unsafe sex and drug use despite the fact that the most common form of transmission is mother to child.
“This stigma that causes fear, shame and discrimination still exists in many cultural circles within the US today. Ignorance of the disease and its method of transmission causes people to fear "catching" hepatitis B by sharing toilets, utensils and living space with an infected person. Furthermore in many Asian Pacific Islander cultures, talking about disease and death is taboo so people remain unaware of the disease,” lamented So. “Education, awareness and engagement are keys for Asian communities including Filipinos. Breaking the silence and the stigma is enormously helpful. In previous efforts, shifting the focus from STDs and drugs to mother to child transmission (which is the biggest cause of infection) was very useful. Getting community members to visit their doctors and get tested is the best way to save lives.”
A statement this week from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is one of the most welcome developments to come out of the Middle East in quite some time.
The future king of the key nation in that part of the world vowed a return to a more moderate Islam, even as he said that he would lead the way in putting an end to extremist ideologies.
It is no secret that a number of Saudi citizens have been at the forefront of terrorist organizations, the likes of Osama bin Laden among them. Some Saudi youth have joined extremist organizations, while other wealthier nationals are known to donate large sums to support their ugly causes.
Crown Prince Bin Salman said, “We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world.”
It must be noted that the kingdom is presently undergoing cultural changes, not the least of which is now allowing women the right to drive. More importantly, Saudi Arabia is also entering a new period of rapprochement with Israel, which can only bode well for the peace in the region.
As Saudi goes, so go the kingdom’s allies in the regions such as the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.
As the global seat of Islam, Saudi Arabia wields much influence in most predominantly Muslim nations in the world. It is where Mecca lies, and all Muslims are expected to take a pilgrimage to the holy site at least once in their life.
It is also worth noting that after the US, Saudi Arabia is where the greatest number of overseas Filipino worker can be found. Thus, the changes taking place in the kingdom should be welcome developments for OFWs and their families back home.
This is not to say that everything will be fine now that the future king has promised to create a more moderate society. Saudi Arabia still does not allow dissent and does not have a free press.
The kingdom also has serious economic issues that need to be solved if it is to maintain its lofty status as one of the richest countries in the world where citizens enjoy such perks as free education, free health care, and pay no taxes at all.
Its financial reserves may run out as early as three years from now due to the global drop in oil prices. The crown prince is addressing this serious problem with his vision to diversify the economy and lessen its dependence on the oil industry, where some 70% of citizens are partially or wholly dependent for their existence.
Perhaps the biggest problem of the new policy of the kingdom is the large number of clerics who remain cultural extremists and who will not readily abandon their ultraconservatism.
Still, the monarchy is the single most powerful institution in the desert kingdom, and Crown Prince Bin Salman is showing that he is not averse to positive change.