April 6, 2023

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced its priority issues in a list of “six winnable battles,” including HIV/AIDS, obesity and nutrition, traffic accidents, and teen pregnancy. Viral hepatitis was not included on this list. Liver cancer and hepatitis B are the greatest health disparities for Asians. The CDC has caused alarm among APIA health organizations with its omission of liver cancer and hepatitis B as “winnable battles.”

Recently over 16 Congressmen also wrote an open letter to the CDC to consider hepatitis as a winnable battle.

Asians are the only racial group in which cancer is the number one killer. Hepatitis B attacks the liver when active, and is one hundred times more infectious than HIV.  Left untreated, the disease can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.

Approximately 80 percent of liver cancer cases worldwide are caused by hepatitis B. Around 1 out of 10 Asian Pacific Islanders is infected.

The CDC’s new prioritization of ‘six winnable battles’ demonstrates the CDC’s poor track record towards achieving health equity for all Americans.

Community groups on the frontline in the battle against hepatitis B and liver cancer say that the CDC’s new priorities could stymie their efforts to increase public awareness of the diseases, as well as lessen their chances of securing the funding necessary to implement effective and comprehensive prevention programs.

APIA health groups across the nation are calling for more people to get tested, vaccinate and for those infected to be treated. There is a vaccine that works and drugs to manage it. The problem is, more than half of the people who have it don’t even know it.

Hepatitis B has been called a “silent killer” because infected individuals often exhibit no symptoms until the liver has been compromised, limiting the effectiveness of available treatments.  Early detection is key and the blood test used is both simple and inexpensive.  However, few physicians routinely test patients for hepatitis B.

The CDC has yet to explain why hepatitis B and liver cancer were not included on the list of agency priorities. CDC representatives, including Director Dr. Thomas Frieden have not commented on community concerns.

The CDC only has $7.3 million allocated to national hepatitis B and C prevention. Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) has introduced a Liver Cancer Bill calling for $600 million to be allocated for national interventions. The bill has 75 co-sponsors.

To get more funds from the government, the public needs to speak up, convince policymakers that it’s important to them, and demand that something be done.

The public is note even aware for the most part that hepatitis B poses a significant risk to public health, even though it affects millions of Americans. Further lessening the chances of a big enough uproar being raised to force politicians’ hands is the fact that half of those infected with hepatitis B are Asian & Pacific Islanders, whose cultures do not encourage activism.

Approximately one in four APIA’s that are diagnosed with hepatitis B will die of liver cancer unless they receive treatment. Without a public outcry, there can be no political will to address this great disparity.

Take part in this effort to request that the CDC correct its omission.

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