September 27, 2023

By Sunny Chanthanouvong

It’s exciting for the United States as we watch the possibility of affordable health care for Americans. This has been a long, difficult fight to be able to say we have a nation who sees the value in healthy citizens. Healthy citizens means more people who can work and learn, who can raise successful families. This is a great investment in our future, and I hope we see many more positive reforms in American policy, such as immigration, to help everyone reach our dreams and goals.For the Lao community in the United States, and for many others, one issue that increasingly concerns me is Hepatitis B. We have collected very little information on its effect on our community, but speaking with many medical specialists from across the country, it’s clear to me we must support more efforts to research Hepatitis B and work with one another to educate ourselves about this disease. Asian Americans are 1.2 times more likely to have Hepatitis B than whites, the highest infection rate of any ethnic group.

But many of us from Southeast Asia avoid going to the doctor unless it’s an emergency. We rarely consider the importance of seeking preventative diagnosis. This is a part of the culture that must change. It’s difficult to have cases identified so we can understand how common Hepatitis B is in Minnesota and across the United States. California and a few other states have attempted to study this but we all need to help fight this silent killer.

Just a decade ago we had no treatments. There is still no complete cure, but there are treatments now and many promising new approaches being developed. Let’s not get left behind. Let’s do our part to help researchers learn more about how Hepatitis B spreads in our community so we can find a cure.

Our challenge as a community is we can be infected and not know it because Hepatitis B does not usually have any signs or symptoms. The only way we can find out is through a blood test. We need to educate ourselves to ask for this to be done, not just for ourselves but for the health of our whole community.

Laos is one of many countries of Southeast Asia where the hepatitis B virus is very common.  Most infections happen at birth or from an infected family member, and if untreated, a hepatitis B infection can lead to cancer of the liver and other serious conditions. This can cost a family so much if it’s detected too late. Hepatits B is preventable and treatable. We owe it to our families and our communities to get tested and enjoy a long life with those we love and support.

Sunny Chanthanouvong is the Executive Director of the Lao Assistance Center in Minneapolis.