The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, the Hepatitis B Foundation and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations on September 14, 2010, launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the epidemic of chronic hepatitis B among Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage.
Chronic hepatitis B is a life-threatening liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The focus of the campaign is a new television public service announcement that encourages Asian Americans to get tested for this preventable and treatable disease. Chronic hepatitis B is known as a “silent killer” because it can slowly destroy the liver over time without causing noticeable symptoms. As the world’s leading cause of liver cancer, HBV is second only to tobacco among known human carcinogens.
Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent experience the greatest burden of the disease in the United States. Although Asian Americans comprise only 5 percent of the U.S. population, they represent more than half of the estimated 1.4 to 2 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B in this country.
“The disproportionate impact of chronic hepatitis B among Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent is one of the most serious – but frequently overlooked – racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States,” said Dr. Garth N. Graham, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. “Because of their high hepatitis B rates, Asian Americans are nearly three times more likely to develop primary liver cancer than Americans of non-Asian descent.”
Hepatitis B can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Yet alarmingly, as many as two-thirds of Asian Americans living with the disease do not know they are infected. The new PSA, noting that one in ten Asian Americans has hepatitis B, asks, “Could you be one of them?” Viewers are encouraged to visit www.hepb.org, where information about the disease is available in several Asian languages.
The PSA will begin airing in September on network affiliates and community stations in metropolitan areas with significant Asian populations, including Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Importantly, the PSA has been translated into Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean for relevant in-language programming. The PSA is supported by funding from Gilead Sciences, a maker of hepatitis treatments.
“Our message is simple: Asian Americans need to get tested for hepatitis B,” said Joan Block, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Hepatitis B Foundation. “People who test negative for HBV can be vaccinated against the disease, and effective treatments are available for those who test positive.
“But not knowing your status means that you are living with an increased risk of dying prematurely from liver cancer as well as unknowingly passing HBV on to your children and other loved ones,” she added. “Too many people are suffering needlessly from this preventable and treatable disease.”
The new campaign reflects increasing momentum to address chronic hepatitis B in the United States. In January 2010, the Institute of Medicine published a landmark report recommending new policy, legislative, community and medical efforts to confront and control the disease. Additionally, HBV screening campaigns have been launched in a number of U.S. cities, and proposed federal legislation calling for increased funding for hepatitis prevention and care is currently pending in Congress.
“Communities of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage in America are mobilizing and demanding that this neglected disease be taken seriously as a public health priority,” said Jeffrey Caballero, executive director, AAPCHO. “Campaigns like this and similar efforts taking place across the country can play an important role in raising awareness, reducing stigma and increasing screening and treatment rates for hepatitis B – all of which are critical to ending this epidemic.”
The PSA, entitled “B,” was developed by 26-year-old photographer Bao Nguyen in collaboration with Boat People SOS, a national Vietnamese-American community-based organization. It was the winner of the B Real Film Contest at the 2009 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It is intended to be used for information purposes to help the public better understand hepatitis B. The announcement is supported by funding from Gilead Sciences, a maker of hepatitis treatments. Participation of the Office of Minority Health, Hepatitis B Foundation and AAPCHO in this campaign and PSA does not imply the endorsement by HHS/OMH of any services or products.