Hep B Blog

Celebrate Democracy July 4, Because Building Walls Never Stops Disease

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Image courtesy of porbital, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

As the United States celebrates its inclusive, democratic heritage this July 4, the world appears to be pulling apart and disregarding the health and welfare of tens of thousands of refugees.

Civil unrest, extremism and poverty are causing thousands to flee the Middle East, Africa and other regions daily. Faced with this humanitarian crisis, some countries and politicians are advocating building walls instead of bridges.

Britain has just voted to leave the European Union. Proponents of “Brexit” shifted the debate away from the economic impact of leaving the E.U. and onto immigration and issues of nationalism. They used the tried-and-true tactic of fear-mongering and blaming outsiders and newcomers for slow economic growth to lure voters to sever their close ties with Europe.

Building walls and ignoring the plight of refugees has terrible human and political consequences. For example, civil unrest helps speed the spread of diseases like hepatitis B around the world. According to estimates,  every year up to 16 million hepatitis B infections (along with 160,000 HIV and 4.7 million hepatitis C infections) result from unsafe injections, many of which are administered in refugee settlements and war zones. In addition to unsafe injections, children don’t get vaccinated against hepatitis B, contributing to the spread of liver disease.

“Developing world conflict and maldistribution of resources remain major contributors to the prevalence of blood-borne viral infection and affect the poor, the young, and the victims of rape in war,” Australian researchers wrote in an article on the impact of war and civil unrest on public health in the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes, with 34,000 displaced daily. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees — half of whom are children. About 54 percent of today’s refugees come from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan. All risk infection as they are trafficked or smuggled or transition through refugee camps. We at the foundation have received several emails from desperate refugees diagnosed with hepatitis B in refugee camps with no access to medical care.

When my grandparents came to the U.S. in the early 1900s, it was during a period when there were no walls or fear. Like today’s refugees, they left poverty behind and traveled to a land that promised equal opportunity for all. America was a shining beacon of acceptance and inclusiveness.

As a country, we lose our integrity and our right to say we are among the best in the world if we build walls and forget that we are a country of immigrants. Do you want to promote democracy around the world? Listen to the suffering of others, recognize it, and do your best to bolster the health and welfare of all people of the world. Blind nationalism only make us more isolated. No one wins and many more will die from infections that we can easily prevent.

In Rural Villages Across India, an Everyday Hero Works to Eradicate Hepatitis B

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Villagers in India attend an education class to learn how to prevent hepatitis B.

By Christine Kukka

India has one of the highest hepatitis B infection rates in the world. An estimated 40 percent of all hepatitis B deaths worldwide occur in India each year, and about 3 percent of its 1.25 billion residents – about 40 million — are chronically infected.

This liver disease wrecks medical and emotional havoc in India. People diagnosed with hepatitis B struggle to attend schools, advance professionally, and even marry due to the ignorance and stigma surrounding this infection.

Like many countries, India’s government is struggling to find resources to screen, immunize, and treat the millions of people affected by hepatitis B. But some people, including Surender Kumar and Sandeep Godara of New Delhi, are not waiting for the government to eradicate hepatitis B.

The two men have created a nonprofit organization called Rann Bhoomi Foundation and enlisted support from various organizations and pharmaceutical companies to raise awareness about hepatitis B in some of the poorest slums and rural regions of India. Increasingly, advocates like Kumar and their grassroots army of volunteers and staff are needed to combat hepatitis B globally.Government initiatives to screen people for hepatitis B, immunize those at risk, and infected people into treatment have been woefully under-funded. Public health campaigns need resources, vaccines, and the ability to screen people—especially pregnant women to make sure their newborns are immediately immunized at birth–to prevent a new generation of hepatitis B infections.

These campaigns need medical supplies and staff, but they also require knowledge about hepatitis B, compassion and an understanding of local customs to be effective. “I found out in 2010 that I was infected,” Kumar, a 34-year-old human resources executive, explained.

His brother had tried to donate blood at work and was told he was infected. He told his family about the results and encouraged them to be tested. Kumar and his mother discovered they too were infected. “On that same day, I decided to raise awareness about this silent killer in rural as well as urban areas,” he said.

“There is little awareness among people about this disease in rural areas of India as individuals often do not feel sick for many years,” Kumar explained. “I knew we needed a mass awareness program to teach people how to prevent this.”

 

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Surender Kumar of the Rann India Foundation teaches villagers about hepatitis B prevention in India.

Their campaign provides education, screening and immunization to people during village meetings, special events and cultural programs in 120 villages. “This helps us create a database of all the people in the area, we divide the screened people into two groups, one group that tests positive for hepatitis B and other with a negative result,” he said.

They sponsor immunization campaigns in collaboration with government programs and use donations from pharmaceutical companies for all who test negative for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), which indicates they are not currently infected. They refer infected people to the local government hospital for treatment and monitoring. As part of the campaign, the initiative trains local peer educators who continue to raise awareness about hepatitis B after Kumar’s initial education campaign.

The need for this work is critical in India, and at first glance this appears to be an impossible task given the lack of awareness about how hepatitis B is spread and prevented and the enormity of the need. Despite the insurmountable odds, Kumar is intent on working to “defeat” hepatitis B in his country.

Instead of waiting for change, Kumar and Godara are hepatitis B heroes working to save lives and raise awareness. You can contact him by email at:surendersharma19817@gmail.com

 For another look at how people in India are fighting stigma and discrimination against people with hepatitis B, view Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan’s video here.

Celebrate Fathers Day By Protecting Your Health and Your Families’ — Get Tested for Hepatitis B

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Courtesy of the US CDC

By Christine Kukka

After our daughter was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B 20 years ago, my doctor immediately had me tested for hepatitis B before I could leave her office. She explained that every household member, including my husband, had to be tested for the liver infection that’s transmitted by direct contact with blood and body fluids. ASAP.

The good news was my daughter, who was adopted, appeared healthy and showed no signs of liver damage. The bad news was my husband and I were shaken to the core by her diagnosis. Weighed down by worry and ignorance, I feared we might all be infected and were facing a death sentence.

I drove out to my husband’s work and we went for a walk. I explained what the doctor had said and explained he had to get tested. It was one of those moments when fear and denial play out over the course of a conversation. Like everyone, he was afraid to get tested. He felt fine, at first he didn’t want to know whether he was infected. For a few moments, he thought ignorance might be less painful than finding out he had hepatitis B.And, as in most families, this disclosure wasn’t easy. He had children from his first marriage who were with us every weekend and they had to be tested too. He would have to share this information with his former wife. This disclosure was going to upend two households. After a few minutes of waffling and processing, he did what courageous fathers do. He got tested and made sure his children were tested too.

The news was all good. His children had been immunized and were fine, he was not infected and was immediately immunized. Today, we are all doing fine, including our daughter.

Every father’s day, I think about that moment, when my husband refused to  retreat into denial, when he put his family’s health ahead of his initial impulse to hide from a frightening and messy situation. It is what being a good father is all about, and it takes courage.

A growing number of studies show fathers are critical to the emotional well-being of their children. When they are affectionate, supportive, and involved, they bolster a child’s emotional development, as well as academic achievement.

A child’s relationship with his/her father affects all of their future relationships and helps define what the child considers to be acceptable and loving. When involved with their children, fathers make a difference. No matter if he is married, single, divorced, widowed, gay, straight, adoptive, step-father, a stay-at-home dad, or the primary family provider,  one of the most profound things he can do is protect the health of his family—and himself–by getting tested for hepatitis B.

There are many men who are at risk of hepatitis B because of where they or their parents or grandparents emigrated from, or if they served in the military, dabbled in drugs, or had multiple sex partners. That was in the past, and this is today, a time to protect your health and your family by getting tested for hepatitis B.

The CDC offers short video clips that feature a conversation between a daughter and her parents, with the daughter explaining why Asian-Americans should be tested for hepatitis B in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean. A high percentage of Asian and African immigrants have hepatitis B, but most don’t know they are infected. To view these clips, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/knowhepatitisb/materials.htm

One in Three People Worldwide Has Had Hepatitis B, So Why Do We Feel So Alone?

Volunteers from the Rann India Foundation teach villagers about hepatitis B testing and prevention in India.
Volunteers from the Rann India Foundation teach villagers about hepatitis B testing and prevention in India.

By Christine Kukka

Hepatitis B is the global pandemic no one talks about, yet one in three people worldwide has been infected. In 2013, hepatitis B and C together was the seventh-leading cause of death worldwide, with hepatitis B causing 780,000 deaths annually.

Today, 240 million people have chronic hepatitis B. Despite the availability of an effective vaccine, the number of people living with hepatitis B virus is projected to remain at the current, unacceptably high level for decades and cause 20 million deaths through 2030.

How can this happen? Viral hepatitis infection and death rates far outstrip that of ebola and zika. In fact, you have to combine the death toll from HIV and tuberculosis to find human suffering on par with what viral hepatitis causes around the world each year. Continue reading "One in Three People Worldwide Has Had Hepatitis B, So Why Do We Feel So Alone?"

Twitter Chat: Partner Highlights From Hepatitis Awareness Month

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Join Hep B United, the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, and the Hepatitis B Foundation for a Twitter #HepChat Wednesday, June 15 at 2 p.m. EDT. The chat will highlight Hepatitis Awareness Month outreach events and allow hepatitis B and C partner organizations to share their successes, challenges, and lessons learned from their efforts.

Continue reading "Twitter Chat: Partner Highlights From Hepatitis Awareness Month"