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Category Archives: HBV

Why is it important to support the Hepatitis B Foundation?

This is a guest blog by Jean Holmes, Vice President of Institutional Advancement at the Hepatitis B Foundation and Baruch S. Blumberg Institute.  

Jean Holmes VP of Institutional Advancement

Why is it important to support the Hepatitis B Foundation? 

Gosh, where should I start? First off, support this cause if you care about people living with hepatitis B. Because honestly, many people don’t. Most people don’t know much about hepatitis B, and people don’t support things they don’t know much about or care about. So, if you are one of the few that do, please consider it, because there aren’t enough of us. We NEED you. 

Second, if you do care about people living with hepatitis B, the Hepatitis B Foundation should be on your giving radar. Your support would mean so much, because we have so much to do together.  

If you’ve made it this far on our website, you probably already know that 300 million people in the world have hepatitis B. Every 40 seconds, someone dies of liver cancer as a result of hepatitis B. Maybe you know someone who has hepatitis B, died of liver cancer, or maybe you have hepatitis B yourself. YOU. MATTER.  

This website is full of information about what the team is doing across the globe to eliminate hepatitis B. They’ve accomplished so much this past year that will help us gain more momentum in 2023 and beyond. We have to leverage those gains! 

This team is a group of WARRIORS. They are so smart and so dedicated, it blows my mind.  

But they need you. 

Thanks again just for being here to care enough to read this post. You obviously care enough to make a difference, so let’s start there.  

We can’t do this alone. It takes a lot of people to raise their voices in order to bring about change. When you give to the Hepatitis B Foundation, you’re telling the world, telling elected officials, telling the people with power, that hepatitis B has a VOICE.  

Your voice.  

What can you do? 

Give. Even if it’s just $5, it helps. Give just once, or become a member of the Champions Club and give $5 a month. That helps the team keep the work going, and ensures that there’s always resources to help people living with hepatitis B. 

Share. Did you know that most people are more likely to support causes that are recommended by family, friends or coworkers? Use your voice! 

Engage. I’ll be holding a volunteer panel in early spring to talk with supporters about how we can generate more support and momentum. I need you. Email me at jean.holmes@hepb.org, or call 215-489-4946 if you want to be a part of it. There will be something for everyone to do. 

Listen, there is so much to do. This is going to be a big year, but we need your help. Put your running shoes on, we’ve got to get going! 

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it! A hepatitis B vignette.

The Scenario

Yufei Zhao is 45 years old and lives with his family in Philadelphia,   Pa. Yufei discovered that he had hepatitis B when he attended a community health fair with his family. Even though he was instructed to talk about his diagnosis with a doctor and learn more about possible treatment options, Yufei decided to do nothing as he did not feel sick. While he has health insurance through his employer, he never utilizes any health care services. He often skips annual wellness visits as he says he “never gets sick.”  

A few weeks ago, Yufei’s family noticed that he has been skipping meals frequently saying he’s full or not hungry. At his daughter’s urging, he decided to go for a visit. After conducting some more tests, his doctor explained that the chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus had progressed substantially, and he had developed cirrhosis. After an MRI diagnosis, it was revealed that Yufei had liver cancer.

The Hepatologist (liver doctor) explained to Yufei that the liver is an important organ and acts as a cleaning system for the body. It removes toxic waste, purifies blood, and helps to digest food properly. When the virus entered the liver, it made many copies of itself and started attacking healthy liver cells. This led to inflammation and weakened the ability of the liver to carry out its most essential tasks. Because he was never monitored for hepatitis B, the virus allowed tumors to grow in the liver which caused the cancer. When the tumors grow in size or number, it eventually spreads to other parts of the body and disrupts other vital processes as well. 

The doctor mentioned that liver cancer is often called the silent disease because symptoms may not always be present. Even with a hepatitis B, a person could look or feel okay but that does not mean the virus isn’t active and causing damage. When the symptoms do show up, it might be too late to prevent liver cancer. After discussing his options with the doctor, Yufei learned that the best treatment for him was to get a liver transplant.  

He weighed the pros and cons of getting a transplant and consulted with his family. Now, Yufei is placed on a waiting list for a liver transplant to become available. In the meantime, his doctor has suggested other methods to destroy the smaller tumors without surgery through radiation (ablation). Yufei continues to spend more time with his family as he hopes to respond well to treatment until a new or partial liver is available.  

The Challenge

Cultural Perceptions on Health & Well-being 

  • Yufei is an older male in the household and the backbone of the family. For this reason, he considers it an obligation to prioritize his family over his personal health. It is important to understand these cultural and social beliefs prevalent in many different cultures and households. 
  • Family members should be advised to encourage their loved ones (especially older family members) to take charge of their health. It is important to check-in with your loved ones and assure them that sickness does not necessarily mean weakness. Taking care of one’s health can mean taking charge of one’s future.  

Hep B and Liver Cancer

  • Hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, the virus can continue to multiply and damage healthy liver cells. This can lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver. This prevents the liver from doing its most important functions to maintain overall health which may result in the development of harmful tumors.  

Liver Cancer is a Silent Disease 

  • Many people with hepatitis B or liver cancer do not show symptoms of sickness but that does not mean the virus isn’t present or not actively working to harm the liver. Eventually, the physical symptoms will become noticeable as the virus/cancer advances to a more dangerous stage. 
What can you do?

Get tested! 

  • The most important thing you can do to prevent liver cancer is to get tested for hepatitis B. Most liver cancers develop from undiagnosed hepatitis B infections. There are a lot of people who have hepatitis B and do not know about it because they have never been tested. Even if you feel healthy and okay, it does not hurt to get tested!
  • If you don’t have hepatitis B, the test can tell you if you are vaccinated or if you need vaccination (which can provide lifelong protection from ever getting hepatitis B and help prevent liver cancer). 

Get screened! 

  • If you have hepatitis B, it is critical to manage the progression of the virus in your liver. For this reason, it is important to go through monitoring of your hepatitis B infection, liver health, and screen regularly for liver cancer.
  • Discuss with your doctor if you are at high-risk and how often you should get screened. It is recommended to get an ultrasound every 6 months to check how the virus is impacting the liver. AFP testing may also be done with regular monitoring of the liver to check for the possibility of liver cancer. 

Get educated! 

  • Stay up to date with the latest research and information on liver cancer! If you have hepatitis B, you should know that there is no cure for the virus but there is a lot of research that shows what you can do to ensure you live a healthy and long life.
  • Take an active role in learning about the disease and how it can affect your health over time. Learn about fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer staging, and available treatments for hep B infection.  

References
  1. https://www.hepb.org/research-and-programs/liver/screening-for-liver-cancer/ 
  2. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/treating/by-stage.html#:~:text=Treatment%20options%20might%20include%20ablation,%2C%20and%2For%20radiation%20therapy. 
  3. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html 
  4. https://www.hepb.org/research-and-programs/liver/risk-factors-for-liver-cancer/ 

What’s the Difference?: Herbal Remedies and Supplements vs. Western Medicine

What’s the Difference?: Herbal Remedies and Supplements vs. Western Medicine

Around the world, people consider the use of herbal remedies or supplements as a natural treatment for hepatitis B and/or D infection. These natural remedies have historically been advertised to boost the immune system and improve liver health. Herbal remedies or supplements are described as products made from botanicals or plants used to treat diseases and maintain health. They can be produced in a variety of forms including liquid extracts, teas, tablets/capsules, bath salts, oils, and ointments4.

Why do people choose to use herbal remedies?

The use of these products over time has social-cultural influences related to the distrust of and unfamiliarity with western medicine for management of hepatitis B or D infection. While herbal remedies have been used widely across cultures and contexts, patterns of racism, medical mistreatment, and inadequate delivery of care in western medicine have influenced the present state of treatment practices. In response to these barriers to sensitive and effective health care delivery, many groups such as Hmong and African communities often rely on herbal remedies and supplements to treat medical conditions and ease suffering.

Silymarin, milk thistle, and Kampo medicine

The distrust of western medicine has contributed to more widespread use of supplements such as silymarin (milk thistle) and Kampo medicine, as alternatives to manage hepatitis B or D infection. Many people believe that Silymarin can improve liver health through its antioxidant and free radical-fighting properties. Traditional Kampo medicine has been used for over 2,000 years to treat a variety of diseases including hepatitis B. One herbal treatment that is frequently used is bupleurum which many people believe can protect the liver or heal liver damage. Despite possible liver health benefits, neither supplement is a treatment for hepatitis B or D and may sometimes cause further harm to the liver4. It is important to note that there is presently no cure for hepatitis B.

False claims and bad interactions

Additionally, several alternative medicine companies often make false claims and testimonials to convince people to purchase expensive alternative treatments with false promises that are not based on scientific evidence. Herbal remedies and supplements may also interact with certain medications prescribed for those with hepatitis B and D, so it is important to seek the advice of a health care professional before use of any of these products3,4.

Strides in western health care

The long-standing hesitancy to participate in western health care is well-reasoned and firmly rooted in past wrongdoing on the part of often fundamentally racist institutions. While the western health care system remains far from perfect, it is important to remember that many strides continue to be made to correct the misdeeds of the past, and conversations around health equity and the social determinants of health (including racism) are becoming more and more common. Meanwhile, research has found that beliefs and misconceptions around western medicine can delay care and increase morbidity rates of hepatitis B in high-risk communities2.

It is vital for those living with hepatitis B or D to stay informed with scientific knowledge about supplements and herbal treatments to ensure these products are effective and safe in their daily life. The coordination of hepatitis B and D care by providers must do better to support those impacted by the viruses, in a way that is culturally sensitive and not dismissive of the harm that has been inflicted on communities of color and immigrant communities, who are more likely to be affected by hepatitis B and D1.  Health care professionals and other service providers must continually work to improve their cultural humility. In addition, health care institutions practicing western medicine must work harder to ensure care is equitable and safe, and to center the voices, stories, and insights of community members in their work to repair the impacts of structural racism and medical mistreatment that have caused such deep distrust in western medical treatments.

To learn more about effective hepatitis B and D medications, check out our Drug Watch page!

Disclaimer: Herbal products are not U.S. FDA-approved, and the Hepatitis B Foundation cannot endorse the usage of such products that lack regulation and scientific evidence to deem them both effective and safe.

References

  1. El-Serag, H., McGlynn, K. A., Graham, G. N., So, S., Howell, C. D., Fang, T., … & Thiel, T. K. (2010). Achieving health equity to eliminate racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in HBV-and HCV-associated liver disease. The Journal of Family Practice, 59(4 Suppl), S37.
  2. Mukhtar, N. A., Evon, D. M., Yim, C., Lok, A. S., Lisha, N., Lisker-Melman, M., … & Khalili, M. (2021). Patient knowledge, beliefs and barriers to hepatitis B Care: results of a multicenter, multiethnic patient survey. Digestive diseases and sciences, 66(2), 434-441.
  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. Using dietary supplements wisely. (2019). Using dietary supplements wisely. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/using-dietary-supplements-wisely.
  4. US Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Information for consumers on using dietary supplements. https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements/information-consumers-using-dietary-supplements.

Reactivation with Hepatitis B: Understanding Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies

Understanding the hepatitis B virus and the panel of blood tests needed to determine infection or immunity can be a stressful and challenging task. In simplest terms, “hepatitis” means liver inflammation and the hepatitis B virus can ultimately cause liver inflammation. The liver is an important organ in the human body and responsible for the removal of toxins and regulation of digestion (learn more about the function of the liver here). The hepatitis B virus can infect and disrupt critical functions of the liver in supporting your overall health. 

How the hepatitis B virus works 

In the case of the hepatitis B virus, the host is the liver cell. As the virus makes more copies of itself, the liver may become damaged, and sometimes it is unable to carry out its essential tasks to regulate metabolism, nutrients, and digestion. It is best to prevent hepatitis B infections when we can – and since antibodies are the best defense against the virus, the hepatitis B vaccine can be used to signals the body to make antibodies to fight the virus. The hepatitis B vaccine provides lifelong protection from the virus. However, this is only possible before infection with the virus. If somebody is already infected with the virus, antiviral therapy is used to control the virus and prevent liver damage – antiviral medications disrupt the life cycle of the virus by disabling viral receptors from binding to liver cells. 

Blood test panel to diagnose hepatitis B: 

The only way to tell someone’s hepatitis B status is through a panel of blood tests – the tests are all done at one time, and only one small tube of blood is needed. These tests are not included in routine testing, so it is important to ask your doctor to test you for hepatitis B or try to find a free screening event near you (http://www.hepbunited.org/). The panel consists of the following tests to determine your hepatitis B status: 

  1. HBsAg: 
    • This tests for the hepatitis B surface antigen in someone’s blood. The surface antigen is the protein that surrounds the virus and protects it from attack by the host. A positive surface antigen test indicates that the virus is present in the body. A “positive” or “reactive” result for HBsAg indicates that someone is infected with hepatitis B and can transmit the virus to others.  
  1. HBsAb 
    • This tests for the hepatitis B surface antibody in someone’s blood. The surface antibodies are produced by the immune system and can fight off the virus by attaching to the surface antigen protein. This test can detect the presence of these antibodies. Ideally this test will be ordered quantitatively (numerically). A “positive” surface antibody test (meaning numbers reading >10 IU/mL) means that a person has protection against the hepatitis B virus (either by vaccine or from a past exposure).  
  1. HBcAb (total) 
    • This is known as the hepatitis B core antibody test. The core antibody is produced by the immune system after infection with the virus. This test indicates an existing or past infection of the hepatitis B virus.  

 

To learn more about interpreting your test results, click here. 

Important things to know about Hepatitis B Core Antibody (HBcAb) 

Someone who has markers of past infection, particularly hepatitis B core antibody, can be at risk for hepatitis B reactivation. Reactivation can be triggered by immunosuppressive therapies and cause significant life-threatening challenges. If you test HBcAb+, please talk to your doctor about what that means, and make sure you notify all future health care providers. 

How is reactivation with HBV defined? 

Reactivation is defined as the sudden increase or reappearance of HBV (hepatitis B virus) DNA. When the virus invades the cell, it forms a covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) in the nucleus of infected cells referred to as hepatocytes. Because cccDNA is resistant to antiviral treatments, it is never removed from the cells. Therefore, even after recovery from a past infection, the cccDNA is present and may reactivate. It is not clearly understood why this may happen, but certain factors may increase the risk for reactivation.  

To learn more about the core, click here. 

What puts one at risk for reactivation? 

  1. Virologic factors such as high baseline HBV DNA, hepatitis B envelope antigen positivity (HBeAg), and chronic hepatitis B infection that persists for more than 6 months.
    • Detectable HBV DNA levels and detectable levels of HBsAG can increase the risk for HBRr (reactivation) 
    • Testing positive for HBeAg also increases the risk for reactivation 
  2. Co-infection with other viruses such as hepatitis C or hepatitis Delta 
  3. Older age 
  4. Male sex 
  5. Cirrhosis 
  6. An underlying condition requiring immunosuppressive therapies (rheumatoid arthritis, lymphoma, or solid tumors) 
    • Certain medications can increase the likelihood of reactivation by more than 10%.  
    • B-cell depleting agents such as rituximab, ofatumumab, doxorubicin, epirubicin, moderate or high-dose corticosteroid therapy lasting more than 4 weeks. 

How to prevent reactivation of hepatitis B 

Hepatitis B reactivation is a serious condition that can lead to health complications, Reactivation is avoidable if at-risk individuals are identified through screening. Current guidelines recommend that individuals at the highest risk (those receiving B-cell depleting therapies and cytotoxic regimens) should receive antiviral therapies as prophylaxis before beginning immunosuppressive therapy. These antiviral therapies should also be continued well beyond stopping the immunosuppressive therapies. Be sure to talk to your doctor to be sure you are not at risk for reactivation.  

References 

Hepatitis b virus reactivation: Risk factors and current management strategies.

Reactivation of hepatitis B virus: A review of Clinical Guidelines.

https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cld.883

https://www.hepb.org/prevention-and-diagnosis/diagnosis/understanding-your-test-results/

CHIPO Partner Highlight: United States Coalition for African Immigrant Health

The Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin (CHIPO) is a national community coalition that is co-founded and led by the Hepatitis B Foundation and is comprised of organizations and individuals who are interested in addressing the high rates of hepatitis B infection among African communities in the U.S. Over the past year, CHIPO has grown its membership to include over 50 community-based organizations and federal agencies, all of which are working to meet the common goals of raising awareness about hepatitis B among African immigrant communities, and increasing rates of screening, vaccination, and linkage to care. This month, we are excited to highlight the work of one of our newer national partners, the United States Coalition for African Immigrant Health, Inc., (USCAIH) and their Executive Director, Janet Afoakwah. Please enjoy a recent interview with Janet, as she describes her work, including successes and challenges, and the positive impacts she and USCAIH have had through their annual conferences and upcoming plans for expanding their portfolio and mission.

Could you please introduce yourself and your organization?

My name is Janet Afoakwah, and I am now the Executive Director of the United States Coalition for African Immigrant Health (USCAIH), previously known as the United States Conference on African Immigrant Health. USCAIH began as the National African Immigrant Project in 2005, supported by the U.S. Office of Minority Health, which provided a platform for national and regional conferences focused on African immigrant (AI) health. These conferences continue to be held on a yearly basis and attract a broad range of attendees, including federal agencies, academicians, researchers, policy makers, public health officials, students, community organizations, and a variety of other stakeholders. We are very excited because this year, in addition to hosting our annual conferences, we are going to be broadening the scope and focus of our work to include other services.

Could you tell me a little bit about what some of USCAIH’s programs are that specifically address hepatitis and other health concerns in African communities?

As we move forward into 2023 and beyond, USCAIH is going to be working toward achievement of some broader goals, including coalition-building; providing technical support to organizations working with AI communities; offering trainings and support in cultural sensitivity for direct-service organizations, especially those working in the areas of HIV and hepatitis, since this is such a crucial component of engaging with AI communities; organizing and expanding our website with important and relevant resources; collaborating and forming partnerships with like-minded organizations; inviting researchers to share their work with the community via a new podcast format; and providing a database where researchers working on AI health can consolidate their findings for direct use and application within communities. Data and research about African immigrants often are not disaggregated from that about African American and Black populations, so getting a clear picture of the health and health disparities impacting AI communities can often be difficult.

Is USCAIH focused in a specific geographic area or does it have more of a national reach?

Our conferences are both regional and national, and we also try to include researchers and organizations from many countries within Africa itself. The other services that we are hoping to expand will be focused on AI communities within the U.S., but all around the country.

Which countries are primarily represented in the African diaspora that USCAIH serves?

We work with folks from all countries and communities. We have been able to reach some communities a bit more effectively, due to existing relationships that our staff has with community members, but our hope is to eventually reach all AI communities within the U.S.

What are some of the biggest challenges in addressing hepatitis and other health concerns at the community level? How have you worked to overcome these? Are there any additional resources that would be helpful to have?

The biggest missed opportunities are in vaccination and screening for both hepatitis B and liver cancer. This gap is due to a variety of reasons, including general lack of health insurance and lack of funding for supportive programs, as well as inequities in healthcare access in general for many immigrant communities, which contribute to greater health disparities. Another large barrier is the lack of provider knowledge about the high risk of hepatitis B in AI communities.

The best ways to overcome some of these challenges are in the creation and sustainability of programs that are centered on AI communities and are culturally and linguistically competent – this is SO important. Another key element in breaking some of the barriers around cultural humility and especially provider awareness is in establishing partnerships and effective collaborations. Building awareness among trusted community and faith leaders, who in turn can pass this on to community members, is also critical. We have been able to launch and disseminate a podcast that covers health issues affecting AI communities, and we try to feature researchers and guests with lived experience of different health challenges, including hepatitis B, in order to raise awareness, dispel myths and misperceptions, and bring the severity of different health concerns into perspective. We are also working to consolidate resources on our website and to have all partners providing direct services around the country listed on there for easy navigation and connection.

Other more broad-sweeping, policy-level changes that need to happen include making hep B screening recommendations universal for all adults; and improving and centralizing linkage to care systems.

What do you think are some of the biggest barriers in raising awareness and addressing rates of hepatitis screening and linkage to care at the local, state, and federal levels? Do you think more could be done in these spheres to address this problem?

This is a big concern and one of the steps we have recently taken to address this is hosting a roundtable discussion intended to educate healthcare providers and professionals about hepatitis B and how to care for community members who might be living with HBV. Better provider education and linkage to care needs to be the order of the day. Community-based organizations should be supplementing the services that providers are offering. One big important change that can occur is for electronic medical records to include an automatic question about hepatitis B screening for all patients. All of this can be done with additional funding and support from the federal and state levels.

Do you see this issue as being connected to other concerns facing African immigrant communities?

Yes, there are a variety of health concerns that face AI communities in the U.S, many of which require similar approaches of cultural sensitivity and community and provider awareness to address. These include diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and various forms of cancer.

What are your favorite parts about your job? What got you interested in this work?

I am passionate about hepatitis B and that is what actually got me into public health. I came into this work having previously led an HIV project at another organization. I love every aspect of my work! My favorite moments are in organizing conferences because they move so fast, have many moving parts, and are SO rewarding! These conferences are widely recognized as the premier gathering for discussing AI health – many organizations of all types are interested in presenting and sharing their work. The conference planning is tremendously collaborative and is an all-volunteer effort. Now, as Executive Director, I can see the whole picture of the conferences and the organization as a whole and am so excited to continue to be working on our old and new endeavors. Hosting the podcast has been a great experience as well, and a wonderful tool to interview a variety of people working in AI health, to raise awareness about important health topics like hepatitis B and to amplify the mission of USCAIH.

Any other thoughts or ideas you’d like to share for improving health and closing health disparities among African immigrant communities in the U.S.?

I just want to emphasize the importance of practicing cultural and linguistic competency, and of working in collaboration and establishing relationships with a variety of partners (including community- and faith-based organizations, health centers, and providers) and how important this is for community work. Establishing trust (which requires time and patience) and providing appropriate resources also cannot be overstated. Continuing to host conferences in order to have a space where ideas can be shared and collaborations can happen is key, and hopefully we can all work together to develop and execute a strategic plan of sorts for improving health and eliminating disparities in African immigrant communities in the U.S.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today and for sharing more about the great work USCAIH has done and will continue into the future!

 Thank you!

What Are You Doing for World Hepatitis Day?

 

What Are You Doing For World Hepatitis Day?

Every July 28, we celebrate World Hepatitis Day in honor of Dr. Baruch Blumberg’s birthday. Dr. Blumberg discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967 and subsequently developed the hepatitis B vaccine two years later in 1969. We commemorate World Hepatitis Day by raising awareness about viral hepatitis. With almost 300 million individuals living with hepatitis B worldwide, it is so important to bring awareness to this preventable and treatable disease to create meaningful change. This year, the World Hepatitis Alliance’s theme is Hepatitis Can’t Wait.  Their campaign highlights how we cannot wait to get tested, vaccinated, reduce stigma and discrimination, and we can’t wait to act. You can join their campaign here.

The Hepatitis B Foundation is dedicated to raising the profile of hepatitis B as an urgent public health problem, improving the quality of life for those living with hepatitis B and working towards eliminating hepatitis B related stigma and discrimination. This year we are elevating the voice of individuals living with hepatitis B by highlighting five new #BtheVoice videos from real people living in Nigeria. These audio recordings were captured by Catherine Freeland, MPH, Associate Director of Public Health at the Hepatitis B Foundation during a recent trip to Nigeria where she worked on enhancing and the need for timely birth dose to prevent mother to child transmission of hepatitis B.

We believe that elevating the voices of those who have hepatitis B is the best way to spread awareness for the need to find a cure, provide screening and treatment and work to fight stigma and discrimination. You can watch the videos here.

So, what will you do today to honor World Hepatitis Day?

It can be as simple as sharing hepatitis B related information on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WeChat, or WhatsApp. You could tell your friends and family about hepatitis B and how it impacts your life or people in your community. You can get involved with the Hepatitis Can’t Wait campaign by doing 1-minute actions, 10-minute actions, or longer actions! Your actions can be as simple as sharing a post on social media or more involved like getting in contact with your policymaker to encourage viral hepatitis prioritization.
Listen and Learn

Listen to our podcast: B Heppy! This podcast is part of our 300 Million Reasons campaign, a movement to improve awareness about hepatitis B and liver cancer worldwide, to promote engagement of key stakeholders, and to empower people impacted by hepatitis B to become vocal advocates. There are almost 300 million people around the world living with chronic hepatitis B infection, and we want to make sure each and every voice is heard.

We recently highlighted what other community organizations are doing to address hepatitis B in their in their regions– check it out here!

Become an Advocate

Become a Hep B Advocate! Sign up below to receive the latest news and updates about hep B policy issues, learn about upcoming advocacy events, and be notified of opportunities to take action and show your support for our policy initiatives. We’ll provide resources, information, and tools to help you:

  • Communicate effectively with your elected officials
  • Educate and engage your community on hepatitis B policy issues
  • Recruit and organize other hepatitis B advocates and champions in your community
  • Promote and participate in ongoing national, state, and local advocacy efforts

We recently learned that Optum has decided to remove Vemlidy as a covered medication for treating chronic hepatitis B from its health insurance plan. This action can have detrimental effects to people living with hepatitis B. In response to this decision, the Hepatitis B Foundation and Hep B United have drafted a letter urging Optum to reconsider its decision and immediately reinstate Vemlidy back on its formulary plan. Read the full letter here.

Happy World Hepatitis Day! Remember: Hepatitis Can’t Wait, Act Now!

 

Questions: info@hepb.org

Accessing Hepatitis B Treatment

Globally, almost 300 million people are living with hepatitis B. Of these 300 million people, the highest burden is in the WHO Western Pacific region and WHO African region with 116 million people and 81 million people living with hepatitis B. 60 million people are infected in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, 18 million in the WHO South-East Asia Region, 14 million in the WHO European Region and 5 million in the WHO Region of the Americas.1

Of these estimated 300 million people living with hepatitis B, only 10% were diagnosed, and of those who were diagnosed, only 22% of individuals eligible for treatment received antiviral therapies.2 Moreover, only 2% of Africans living with chronic hepatitis B infection receive a diagnosis and of those individuals, 0.1% receive treatment.3

So why aren’t people living with hepatitis B on treatment? Cost can be a barrier.

The Hepatitis B Foundation compiled a list of hepatitis B medications and their costs for a 30-day supply in the U.S.

In the U.S., if someone does not have insurance or know how to access Medicaid or Medicare, they might not be able to afford medication. If they were to pay out of pocket, medication would total $11,484 on the low end of costs.4 One study reported that low household income and publicly funded health insurance were negatively associated with willingness to accept hepatitis B treatment.5

The high cost of hepatitis B management was found to be a barrier in a research study in Ghana. This study found that a typical cost of hepatitis B medication (Tenofovir), was Ghc 3600, or $670 USD annually.6 The average income is about Ghc 9,600 or $1,778 – this means the cost of hepatitis B medication would be about 38% of an average Ghanaian income.6

Another study in Burkina Faso found that cost was a barrier to access to treatment. For someone living with hepatitis B, the total cost for a full diagnosis is estimated to be $209 USD, when in 2020,5 33.7% of the population lived on less than $1.90 a day and the gross national income per capita in 2014 was $700.7 For the treatment itself, the study found that it cost $54 a year for tenofovir and $23 a year for lamivudine. One individual reported that they had to stop treatment because of the cost.6

What can be done to help with cost for hepatitis B treatment?

In the U.S., there are patient assistance programs that can help alleviate costs for some people. These special prices are offered by online pharmacies, co-pay assistance cards, or pharmaceutical companies. DiRx, a new online pharmacy,  has added two front-line medications for chronic hepatitis B infection – generic Viread® (Tenofovir) and generic Baraclude® (Entecavir) – and will be offering the medications at greatly discounted prices. Specifically, 30-count supplies of Entecavir will be $33, and Tenofovir $21, compared to the average retail price of $1,188. To access Tenofovir or Entecavir at discounted prices, patients should visit DiRxHealth.com and use promo code HBFSAVE. Any hepatitis B patient with a valid U.S. prescription will be able to order and benefit from free U.S. shipping, with no pre-qualifications and health insurance required. RxOutreach is another online pharmacy that provides reduced cost tenofovir and entecavir, and recently had a special offer for free medication for up to 12-months. For people in the U.S. taking Vemlidy, Gilead offers a patient assistance program for those who meet certain criteria. Patient Advocate Foundation and Prescription Hope offer co-pay assistance programs for eligible individuals with insurance who cannot afford their insurance co-pays.

Check out Medication Assistance Programs (U.S.)!

We must continue to bring awareness to hepatitis B. Through advocacy and continued discussion, we can improve political and government will which is most important for access to education, prevention, testing, and treatment of hepatitis B. Currently, hepatitis B is not included in The Global Fund To Fight HIV, Tuberculosis, and Malaria which offers countries like Burkina Faso and Ghana free treatment for these three diseases. We can advocate for hepatitis B to be included in this program or a viral hepatitis program like this which would help eliminate hepatitis B. Moreover, countries can use existing HIV infrastructure and incorporate hepatitis B into that space. Through cross organizational collaboration, advocacy, increasing education, and improving advocacy this can be accomplished.

The Hepatitis B Foundation is dedicated to accomplishing these efforts. We published Health Insurance Costs Impacting Shoppers Living with Hepatitis B – a comprehensive report that details our findings from analyzing 2019 and 2020 silver-level health insurance plans for potential discriminatory tiering of hepatitis B treatments. The report contains a list of things to consider when choosing health insurance plans, trends that may drive up the cost of treatment, and an overview of health insurance companies that displayed discriminatory practices. You can use the information on our site to help advocate for yourself, report your experience with discrimination on the Hepatitis B Foundation’s Discrimination Registry, or contact the Hepatitis B Foundation at discrimination@hepb.org.

 

References

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-b
  2. Web Annex 1. Key data at a glance. In: Global progress report on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, 2021. Accountability for the global health sector strategies 2016–2021: actions for impact. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  3. Polaris Observatory Collaborators (2018). Global prevalence, treatment, and prevention of hepatitis B virus infection in 2016: a modelling study. The lancet. Gastroenterology & hepatology3(6), 383–403. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-1253(18)30056-6
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00819-8
  5. Adjei CA, Stutterheim SE, Naab F, Ruiter RAC (2019) Barriers to chronic Hepatitis B treatment and care in Ghana: A qualitative study with people with Hepatitis B and healthcare providers. PLoS ONE 14(12): e0225830. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225830
  6. Mukhtar, N. A., Evon, D. M., Yim, C., Lok, A. S., Lisha, N., Lisker-Melman, M., Hassan, M., Janssen, H., & Khalili, M. (2021). Patient Knowledge, Beliefs and Barriers to Hepatitis B Care: Results of a Multicenter, Multiethnic Patient Survey. Digestive diseases and sciences66(2), 434–441. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-020-06224-3
  7. Giles-Vernick, T., Hejoaka, F., Sanou, A., Shimakawa, Y., Bamba, I., & Traoré, A. (2016). Barriers to Linkage to Care for Hepatitis B Virus Infection: A Qualitative Analysis in Burkina Faso, West Africa. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene95(6), 1368–1375. https://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.16-0398
  8. https://data.worldbank.org/country/burkina-faso

CHIPO Partner Highlight: Great Lakes Peace Centre

 The Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin (CHIPO) is a national community coalition that is co-founded and led by the Hepatitis B Foundation, comprised of organizations and individuals who are interested in addressing the high rates of hepatitis B infection among African communities in the US. Recently, CHIPO has started to expand its reach to communities in Africa and has welcomed new partners from the Continent. This month, in honor of Minority Health Month, we highlight a partnership between CHIPO and Great Lakes Peace Centre (GLPC) in Kasese, Uganda. CHIPO has recently provided GLPC with educational resources that are tailored for African communities, which GLPC is translating into local dialects and will use in a strategy to raise awareness and provide education about hepatitis B, primarily to rural women and youth in Kasese District. A recent interview with Bwambale Arafat, Head of Health and Policy Officer at GLPC, sheds light on some of the significant barriers that impede hepatitis B screening, prevention, and care in Uganda (and much of the African continent) and showcases some of the extraordinary work of GLPC on a host of issues, of which viral hepatitis is just one.

 CHIPO: Can you share a little bit about yourself? What is your connection to hepatitis?

Arafat: I work with the Great Lakes Peace Centre, which is a grassroots, youth-led organization, here in Kasese District, a rural area in Rwenzori region, western Uganda (near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, about 400 kilometers from the capital city of Kampala). Most of our work with hepatitis B is focused on raising awareness and providing education about the virus to women and youth in the area, who are the most important people to reach. We also engage in a lot of advocacy initiatives, as well as efforts to lower stigma and discrimination.

My personal connection to hepatitis B is the diagnosis of my uncle with hepatitis B and liver cancer and his death shortly thereafter. There was widespread misconception that he had been bewitched and poisoned by relatives. I have been working to try to dispel some of these myths and provide accurate information ever since. In 2021, I was honored as a World Hepatitis Alliance champion for hepatitis outreach work during COVID-19. I and GLPC are deeply committed to the cause of hepatitis B elimination by the year 2030.

CHIPO: Congratulations on the well-deserved honor! Can you share a bit about the work and goals of your organization?

Arafat: Due to its proximity to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kasese feels the effects of war and conflict acutely, and the area is quite fragile. Peace and Conflict Resolution is the first of three priority areas for GLPC and is driven forward by the efforts and demographic dividends of young people. Health Promotion and Public Policy is the second priority area, which encompasses awareness and education about hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis prevention, screening, and treatment, as well as nutrition assessments, counseling, and support, especially for mothers of children under five years of age. Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene is another topic of top concern, and initiatives in this sector included a hand-washing campaign for COVID-19. The last focus area under the Health Promotion umbrella is adolescent sexual and reproductive health, and especially promotion of education equity for menstruating young women and ending of stigma and discrimination around this, thus keeping young women in school for longer. Social empowerment happens through education, and people can donate to keep girls in school with financial support. The third organizational priority is to focus on climate change – GLPC distributes solar panels through public and private partnerships, as a great step toward sustainability and protecting the planet we share.

 CHIPO: What are some of the biggest barriers to hepatitis screening, prevention, and care in your community?

Arafat: As I mentioned above, the widespread presence of myths and misconceptions about hepatitis B, especially about transmission, is one of the biggest culprits in perpetuating the stigma and discrimination that still dominate the hepatitis B conversation and presents one of the biggest challenges to increasing screening and vaccination. Some ways that we are working to dispel some of these misconceptions are through our social media platforms, which all have huge followings by younger people. However, attitudes are very slow to change, and this is why the involvement of religious and community leaders in spreading accurate information and shifting the narrative around viral hepatitis is so important, and why personal testimonials and connections with people who are living with hepatitis B hold such power.

Other challenges to screening, prevention, management, and treatment of hepatitis B in Kasese include the enormous out-of-pocket costs of diagnosis and testing; the persistent lack of awareness among the general population – primarily lack of information, education, and communication; the lack of logistics and supplies for things like test kits and cold chain storage for vaccines; and the long distances and mountainous topography that make access to health facilities in larger cities difficult. Additionally, funding and resources from the government and other stakeholders remain inadequate, making it difficult to ensure that services will be available when they are needed. The Minister of Health and government of Uganda have created infrastructure to help with vaccination (they have provided 1 million USD for this reason), have recommended universal adult vaccination, and have also waived fees for viral load investigation. However, things like ultrasound scans, complete blood count panels, and other tests to determine when someone would need treatment for hepatitis are not subsidized. The government could also do a great deal more in terms of increasing awareness, investing money into management and care, prioritizing the birth dose of the vaccine to prevent mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B, and addressing the stigma and discrimination so many living with hepatitis B routinely face.

Many infants also continue to be delivered by traditional birth attendants, who are not trained in preventing mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B, and knowledge among community health workers in general is very low. There is also inadequate data and surveillance of the disease, and no records of screening, vaccination, or care are kept in the Health Management and Information System. There is a lack of clear guidelines around testing for the medical community and a lack of materials that can help to raise awareness and combat stigma.

We also really need to integrate hepatitis services into those that exist for HIV/AIDS. Machines that are used to test for HIV/AIDS can be recalibrated to also test for hepatitis. Electronic Health Records can be upgraded to include hepatitis B status. As awareness grows, patients can also hold health workers accountable for hepatitis testing, as they do now for HIV and syphilis. This conversation needs to start with the people themselves.

 CHIPO: How are you planning to use CHIPO’s materials and resources over the next year?

Arafat: We have a saying in Kasese: “When you talk in a foreign language, you talk to people’s heads. When you speak in their language, you speak to their hearts.” Our first priority is to translate CHIPO’s flip charts, takeaway cards, and guides for health educators into our local dialects of Lhukonzo and Runyakitara, in order to reach as many community members and stakeholders as possible. We will host four community educational events using the materials and in these events, will focus on hepatitis B overview, causes and prevention, common myths and misconceptions, and unmet needs in this area. These sessions will be moderated by NoHep Champions and Hepatitis Ambassadors, so that the community can hear from people with direct experiences of the disease and their voices can be amplified.

Additionally, we will host NoHep Champion Table Talks, which are informal discussions that will consist of young people living with HBV and pregnant women, who will share stories and build community. These talks will touch upon how people are doing physically, as well as with handling stigma, and will identify needed services, insights which can help to determine future programming and practices. These talks will also emphasize that no one is alone, and that hepatitis B is not a death sentence, but that people with HBV can live long and healthy lives. We will also convene community barazas (gatherings) with local leaders, including social workers, health workers, village health teams, hepatitis ambassadors, local council, and cultural, community, and religious leaders to conduct trainings on delivery of the educational materials. These will provide an opportunity to educate and invite open discussion. We will also hold continuing education courses on hepatitis B for healthcare professionals at health facilities, including community health workers, village health teams, and para-social workers. Finally, we are planning to compose a radio jingle related to hepatitis B that will be heard around the district.

Only 1 in 10 people in Kasese know their hepatitis B status. These materials can go a long way in changing that.

CHIPO: Thank you so much for your valuable insights and for all of the work you are doing! Do you have any final thoughts or messages that you would like to share?

Arafat: I would just like to mention our No Hep Mamas campaign, which we are also implementing for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B. We are working to bring this campaign to more health facilities, and share this information in prenatal care settings, as stopping the cycle of transmission is truly the best way to eliminate hepatitis B.

CHIPO: Thank you so much again for your time today, Arafat, and we look forward to more inspiring work from you in the future!

Arafat: Thank you very much!

What Can We Do During National Minority Health Month?

As March wraps up and we look to April, let’s celebrate National Minority Health Month!

This month is all about building awareness around the disproportionate burden of premature death and illness in minority populations and encouraging action through health education, early detection, and control of disease complications. 

Why is There a Disproportionate Burden of Hepatitis B in African and Asian and Pacific Islander Populations?

To address this, we first must know some background information. The hepatitis B virus was discovered in 1965 by Dr. Baruch Blumberg, and the recombinant vaccine was approved in 1986. Almost 300 million individuals across the globe are living with chronic hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is a virus that affects your liver. Left untreated, it does damage to your liver and could lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, or liver cancer.

Multiple factors influence why hepatitis B is so common in African and Asian Pacific populations. Hepatitis B is an ancient virus, and because it is transmitted through blood contact, it has been spread from generation to generation throughout Asia and Africa. Many countries have effective vaccination programs that have drastically slowed transmission over the past 15 years – but some countries, where up to 10% of the population has hepatitis B, still don’t provide universal vaccination to newborns, children or adults – so hepatitis B transmission remains high. Additionally, lack of awareness regarding hepatitis B transmission, lack of hepatitis B testing and data, stigma and hepatitis B related discrimination also play roles in the continued spread of hepatitis B in endemic regions.

In WHO Africa Region, 81 million people are living with hepatitis B, 116 million in the Western Pacific Region, and 18 million in the South East Asian Region.1 In the US, hepatitis B primarily impacts communities of color, especially 1st and 2nd generation Americans.

So, what does this mean for you in the context of hepatitis B during National Minority Health Month?

What Can You Do National Minority Health Month? 

Those from communities that are highly impacted by hepatitis B, including Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and people of African origin, are at higher risk for having hepatitis B. If you do not know your hepatitis B status, go get tested and encourage your family members and close contacts to get tested as well. Testing for hepatitis B is very simple and if your test results show that you need vaccination, there is a safe and effective vaccine.

Did you know that most transmission occurs from mother to child, due to the exchange of blood during the childbirth process? If you are expecting a baby, be sure your doctor tests you for hepatitis B – this way, the doctor can be sure that your baby gets the appropriate shots at delivery to prevent them from getting infected. If you live in the United States, health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, should cover the cost of hepatitis B testing for pregnant women. Find out more about the birth dose here.

We know getting tested for hepatitis B can be challenging. Schedules can conflict, the associated cost can be a barrier, and sometimes we do not want to find out our status due to possible stigma and discrimination. The good news is that you can reach out to your local clinic or community center to link to testing and vaccination for a low or at no cost with a culturally sensitive provider that might be able to speak your native language. Finding out our hepatitis B status can be scary. However, it is important to know because there are effective treatments for hepatitis B.

Find a testing and vaccine provider here!

Next, you can help create and build awareness of hepatitis B in your community. Do you and your community use social media like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? You can share hepatitis B information with them here from the Know Hepatitis B Campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or follow the Hepatitis B Foundation on social media to share our posts with your friends and followers.

What Can Providers Do During National Minority Health Month? 

Providers also have a responsibility during National Minority Health Month. Providers can help educate their patients about hepatitis B, especially those at higher risk, and talk about testing and vaccination. Recently, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended universal hepatitis B vaccination for all adults ages 19-59. Healthcare practitioners should incorporate this recommendation into their practice to help reduce the number of new cases of hepatitis B in the United States.

Working together, we can commemorate National Minority Health Month and eliminate hepatitis B-related health disparities for the future!

References

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-b
  2. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/08/20/key-findings-about-u-s-immigrants/

Feelings of Sadness and Hepatitis B? – You Are Not Alone!

 

Why Did This Happen to Me? 

Being diagnosed with hepatitis B can be scary and maybe you feel like you can’t tell anyone, but you are not alone. Living with hepatitis B is more common than you think, about 300 million people are living with hepatitis B worldwide! You might be wondering how could this happened to me?

Did you know that hepatitis B is an ancient virus? It has been around for thousands of years, is most common in Africa, Asia, and the Western Pacific. And transmission of the virus is almost always from mother-to-child, due to the blood exchange during labor and delivery. Most people with chronic hepatitis B infection were infected at birth or during early childhood. There are other, less common ways hepatitis B can be transmitted through unsterile medical or dental equipment, unprotected sex, or unsterile needles.

Feeling Sad After Your Hepatitis B Diagnosis?

 Sometimes after our diagnosis, we might feel overwhelmed with emotions. These emotions could be anger, sadness, anxiousness, numbness, or maybe a combination of everything. It never hurts to ask someone for some help. Consider going to a therapist. Talking to a therapist, especially if you’ve always kept your hepatitis B a secret, can help you get a better handle on your hepatitis B diagnosis. It can be freeing to talk to another person and have them support you on your emotional and physical health journey. If you don’t have access to a therapist or prefer to be more anonymous, you can join online support groups. Hep B Community is a great resource if you are in need of online global support – they are dedicated to connecting people affected by hepatitis B with each other and with verified experts in the field, who provide trustworthy and accurate advice.

You can also incorporate healthy habits into your lifestyle like taking daily walks, mediation, or incorporating any exercise you enjoy. Eating healthy, with lots of fruits and vegetables can make you feel better inside as well!

Can I Take Anti-Depressants with Medication for Hepatitis B?

 Sometimes, if we have persistent sadness for a long time it can be diagnosed as depression. Luckily, depression can be treated with medication called antidepressants. Antidepressants generally do not harm the liver, unless you have severe, pre-existing liver damage (such as cirrhosis), are older, or are taking several medications at once.

According to research, about 0.5 percent to 3 percent of those taking antidepressants may develop very mild elevation in their liver enzymes (called ALT or SGPT), which indicate mild liver damage. It is a good idea to talk to your doctor about this. If you already have liver damage, or you/your doctor are concerned, your doctor can monitor your ALT/SGPT levels more frequently than usual during your first weeks of antidepressant treatment, especially if your ALT/SGPT level is already elevated.

The antidepressants that may cause the highest risk of moderate liver damage,  include monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, tricyclic/tetracyclic antidepressants, nefazodone, bupropion (Wellbutrin, also used for ADD and smoking cessation), duloxetine and agomelatine.Drugs with lower risk of causing liver damage include citalopram, escitalopram, paroxetine (Paxil) and fluvoxamine.

Among the most common antidepressants used today is fluoxetine (Prozac).  According to the National Institutes of Health LiverTox report,  in people with no pre-existing liver infections or damage, “Liver test abnormalities have been reported to occur rarely in patients on fluoxetine (less than 1 percent), and elevations (in ALT/SGPT) are usually modest and usually do not require dose modification or discontinuation.”

Feeling sad and depressed is normal reaction to receiving news that you have hepatitis B. However,  hepatitis B does NOT define you and a gentle reminder is that you can live a long and healthy life with hepatitis B.