Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Hepatitis B Awareness

#justB Storyteller David’s Advocacy Journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David is living with hepatitis B, and he spoke about empathy and mental health as a panelist at the World Hepatitis Summit (WHS) 2024

Another World Hepatitis Summit (WHS) has come and gone, this time in Lisbon, Portugal. I previously attended the 2022 summit in Geneva and spoke during the Youth Can’t-Wait and Closing Sessions. I would like to give my thanks to the wonderful people at the World Hepatitis Alliance, for allowing me to travel and speak at this year’s summit as well.  

I spoke during a newly created session called Hepatitis and Mental Health. During this session, a video I made in collaboration with the WHA last year, was played before I spoke. It is part of the WHA “I can’t wait” series of videos, which showcase patient advocates and their journeys with patient advocacy and why they can’t wait for a world without hepatitis. I, the dedicated and powerful Shabana Begum of the UK, and the courageous and vocal Shaibu Issa of Tanzania are the first to be featured in these videos.  

I can’t wait… these words evoke dire urgency. During this summit, I felt and heard the urgency from many of the speakers, advocates, and attendees. From the opening session, it was emphasized that the world DOES have the tools and resources but DOES NOT have the required amount of political and social will to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. The need for person-centered and culturally appropriate approaches as being critically important was also highlighted.  

These declarations capture the moment the viral hepatitis community is currently in. Time is slipping away by the day and the people who suffer from viral hepatitis, hepatitis B and D included, cannot continue to wait in silence as they have been. Deaths from hepatitis B are still alarmingly high each year. These statistics highlight a problem of stigma and discrimination that presents differently depending on where you are located or who you are talking to. Stigma and discrimination can cause mental health problems and prevent millions of people living with hepatitis from finding their voice, feeling comfortable sharing their story, and being diagnosed. Without solving this multi-faceted problem, the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030 is just an empty platitude. 

Having the privilege and platform to speak about hepatitis and mental health during this summit was very important to me. My struggles with hepatitis B and my mental health struggles are interconnected in so many ways. That is also true for so many other patients who have struggled with poor mental health. Long before I started my patient advocacy journey, I felt voiceless. Long before I ever talked publicly about my mental health struggles, I felt voiceless.  

Empathy is a crucial piece of the puzzle for how we give those who feel voiceless the greatest opportunity to find their voice, regardless of where they are from or the stigmas that surround them. We must be empathetic when creating policies, action plans, and declarations. So many millions of people are left undiagnosed, untreated, and voiceless because of fear of the societal, associative, and personal stigma that they will go through if they seek out a diagnosis or talk about their status openly. There is still so much misinformation surrounding hepatitis and the only feasible way to fight this is by amplifying the voices of those who speak the truth about hepatitis with empathy, cultural sensitivity and appropriate.  

The symptoms of poor mental health exacerbate this feeling of voicelessness. After five years of advocacy, over a decade of therapy, and five years of being on a consistent treatment for my hepatitis B, I still struggle with clinical depression and anxiety. I will live every day with depression and anxiety in varying degrees for the foreseeable future. My mental health started to trend downward late last year. I had to find the strength to start an antidepressant medication and give it an honest try. I can happily say, that today and every day after will mark the longest I’ve been on an antidepressant (almost six months now), and I can report that it is helping me manage my mental health and to continue managing my hepatitis.  

I say all of this to highlight the connection between times in my life where I have actively been taking steps to manage my mental health and my hepatitis B. These periods overlap with each other, and they have one important thing in common. Empathy for myself and others. This is one of the strongest coping tools I have to manage my hepatitis B and my mental health. Patient health outcomes are linked to the state of their mental health and the tools and resources they are given to help manage it.  

After attending this World Hepatitis Summit, I feel a calling to act with more urgency. This isn’t an easy task. For me, it’s one of the most challenging aspects of advocacy. I have such a natural tendency to self-talk in very judgmental and negative terms. I sometimes think I’m a terrible person for not doing more and taking more time to learn how to become a more capable and productive advocate. I ask myself why I’m not having more conversations, learning about others’ perspectives, and potentially teaching someone or setting them on a path of changing their minds about hepatitis and mental health.

The desire to grow more as an advocate and connect more with others is within me, but the key to taking more action is to meet myself where I am currently and to practice self-empathy. When I speak to myself with empathy, kindness, and encouragement, I am much more likely to grow and make a positive change, even though mental health struggles.   

Most people in the world can relate to or know someone who has struggled with their mental health. This commonality between people can be a powerful tool if wielded with empathy instead of fearmongering and focusing on the most rare, violent, and negative aspects of mental health struggles. These stories fill the public, media, social media, and political discourse and create more layers of stigma (public, associative, self, provider). Changing this narrative will be a monumental undertaking but to use one of my favorite quotes, “The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is today.” 

Minority Health Awareness Month: Why does hepatitis B disproportionately affect some groups more than others? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hepatitis B is a global public health crisis. While it is heavily underreported across the world, experts estimate that there are approximately 300 million people living with chronic hepatitis B. Anyone can get hepatitis B. The hepatitis B virus does not discriminate. This is why it is crucial for everyone to get tested for hepatitis B at least once in their lifetime and get the hepatitis B vaccine. 

However, some people are at a greater risk for developing chronic hepatitis B than others. This is not necessarily because some people are genetically predisposed to the virus but because of poor awareness and lack of resources to prevent or treat hepatitis B.  It is important to understand that health is influenced by many different factors including genetics, our environment, availability of resources and access to care. To fully understand the reasons behind racial and ethnic disparities in hepatitis B prevalence across the globe, we must understand the social determinants of health associated with hepatitis B testing and care.  

Differences in HBV Genotypes 

Genotypes describe the characteristics of the virus. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) contains many different genotypes, which explains why the virus impacts people in different ways (i.e., how the virus spreads to others, likelihood of developing serious liver disease, etc.). Some genotypes such as genotype A can increase the chances of chronic (long-term) infection. 

Certain HBV genotypes are more common in some regions of the world than others, which may explain why some people are more likely to experience worse health outcomes than others (Sunbul, 2014). 

 Genotype A is commonly found in the African region. Genotypes B and C are found in the Asia Pacific regions. Genotype D is less likely to lead to a chronic infection but can still result in serious liver failure without proper intervention. Genotype D is found mostly in South Asia (Pakistan and India). Source: Sunbul M. (2014). Hepatitis B virus genotypes: global distribution and clinical importance. World journal of gastroenterology, 20(18), 5427–5434. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i18.5427 

Social Determinants of Health 

Public health researchers call the economic, cultural and political factors that shape society “social determinants of health,” which go beyond medical care and insurance coverage. Our health is influenced by our access to education, employment opportunities, local, state and national policies, and our neighborhood and environment. (Greene at al., 2017). 

In the global context of hepatitis B prevention and treatment, some groups are at a better advantage than others. Some countries are more technologically advanced with a strong economy. This makes access to testing, vaccine, clinical trials, and treatment options much easier for some populations (though disparities still exist). Political will and access to economic resources impact what public health issues should be prioritized for in many countries. If a country has a poorly maintained economy and access to resources is limited, it is less likely to develop or sustain critical public health programs to prevent or test for hepatitis B or provide proper care for those living with hepatitis B. In some regions, access to schools and education is restricted, which impacts health literacy and access to economic mobility. Poor awareness due to low health literacy and limited knowledge about hepatitis B is usually because of overall education deficiencies. This makes it difficult for people to understand health education if they lack basic literacy skills (i.e., if they cannot read or write). In other regions, health literacy is not prioritized. Some people have better access to tools and resources that help them understand how to navigate the health care system, get medical insurance and make better decisions about their health (e.g., starting treatment or routinely getting ultrasounds to monitor liver function) (Greene et al., 2017). 

In the U. S., hepatitis B is an important health concern for many Asian and African immigrant populations. This is partially due to low or poor vaccination rates in their country of origin (some countries do not have policies on mandatory vaccination, access to adult vaccination or sufficient access to birth dose). While people should be getting screened for hepatitis B during the immigration process, this does not always occur. Immigrant populations also tend to have lower rates of insurance coverage. Many either lack healthcare insurance or do not have adequate insurance.  

Cultural barriers pose a critical challenge to getting people screened and vaccinated as health education materials on hepatitis B are not always available in other languages, such as Khmer or Mandarin. This makes them more likely to avoid getting care or using preventative services such as hepatitis B screening and vaccination due to fears of high out-of- pocket costs, disruptions in their immigration process and cultural factors. Cultural barriers pose a critical challenge to getting people screened and vaccinated as health education materials on hepatitis B are not always available in their native languages. 

The Hepatitis B Foundation and the Hep B United Coalition work with local, national, and global partners to address barriers around hepatitis B and liver cancer for impacted communities. Local coalitions such as Hep B United Philadelphia work with community-based organizations like African Family Health Organization (AFAHO), Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), and SHAMS Health Clinic to increase uptake of screening and provide education on hepatitis B and liver cancer among Asian and African immigrant communities.  

 

References: 

Greene, K. M., Duffus, W. A., Xing, J., & King, H. (2017). Social Determinants of Health Associated with HBV Testing and Access to Care among Foreign-born Persons Residing in the United States: 2009 – 2012. Journal of health disparities research and practice, 10(2), 1–20. 

Sunbul M. (2014). Hepatitis B virus genotypes: global distribution and clinical importance. World journal of gastroenterology, 20(18), 5427–5434. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i18.5427 

Nurses need to help wipe out chronic hepatitis B, a disease borne by 300 million people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nurses such as you and me – yes, that means all nurses (and our welcomed health care counterparts) – likely come across a patient or parent who declines vaccinations for themselves or their children. And it is not uncommon for nurses to be first in line to receive the unfavorable statements refusing these life-sustaining vaccines. 

While every nurse may provide vaccine education at some point in a patient’s life, those in neonatal and maternal-newborn nursing have a greater responsibility with the hepatitis B vaccine. It is for good reason the hep B vaccine is the first immunization given to newborns within 24 hours of birth, followed by a second dose at 1 months, and the third at 6 months. However, communicating those reasons to parents of our newborn patients takes a compassionate, strong and skillful approach. Especially when we are faced with resistance and the unyielding declinations for the hepatitis B vaccine.  

There are various clinical settings and times when nurses can educate new parents and those with children about how the hepatitis B vaccine works and why it is necessary. We have numerous opportunities to identify misconceptions, fears and inaccurate information a parent might have regarding the vaccine. When addressing the highly recommended CDC’s vaccine schedule with parents, the rule of thumb is letting them know to expect their child will get the hep B vaccine series starting at birth. It is typically at this time when pushback from the parents begins to emerge. First and foremost, determining the “why” in what is making the parent hesitant about or declining the hep B vaccine is vital when trying to help them understand the reason vaccination is strongly advised. 

Resistance to hep B vaccination typically relates to not understanding the risks of contracting the virus, a perceived low risk of exposure or safety of the vaccine. Educating parents about complications that acquiring hepatitis B can have on the body can emphasize the vaccine’s purpose. Nurses need to use language that is concise and easy to understand. Nurses can let parents know hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver that damages and compromises its function, which can and often does lead to liver disease and ultimately cancer. Unlike a common bacterial infection that can quickly be treated with antibiotics, acquiring a hepatitis B infection can mean living with a chronic, life-long and potentially life-threatening illness. And the vaccine was established to provide a solution to that problem.  

Parents who perceive a low risk of their child becoming exposed typically minimize the need for the vaccine. A major misconception is that individuals who have hepatitis B have engaged in risky sexual behaviors or are drug users. To counter this impression, we want to make it very clear that hepatitis B can affect anyone. In fact, 40% of people in the U.S. who have a new hepatitis B infection don’t have any known risk factors. It could be helpful to educate parents using real-life scenarios about how the risks are present outside of stigmatized behaviors. For example, educate them that hepatitis B can be spread if their child shares a razor, toothbrush or nail clipper with someone who has the virus. 

If a parent is on the fence about the hep B vaccine, they might come with assumptions rather than questions. They may state, “My baby is too young, he doesn’t have an immune system yet.” You can let them know: “The hep B vaccine is synthetically prepared with small bits of viral protein and does not contain any blood products. This means the vaccine contains no actual virus and cannot infect anyone.” Educating parents about what the vaccine is will help explain how it actually works. You could say: “By introducing a small part of the virus, the body will learn to recognize the virus in case of future exposures and will protect someone for a lifetime.” 

Parents will often raise safety concerns about the vaccine and the erroneous allegations that it can cause autism. This misconception is tied to a preservative (thimerosal) once used in vaccines and this misinformation still lingers on social media. The most effective way to communicate with parents who harbor this misguided belief is by emphasizing the information from trusted and reliable national public health agencies. Nurses could inform parents that thimerosal is no longer used in the hepatitis B vaccine (or any other childhood vaccine except flu), and a page on the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website (June 1, 2021, https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-ingredients/thimerosal) explains why thimerosal in vaccines isn’t harmful. Also, the single study suggesting that link has been discredited and withdrawn from publication, and the physician-author has been banned from practicing medicine (The New York Times, May 24, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/health/policy/25autism.html). 

As for the hepatitis B vaccine, as you can read on the Hepatitis B Foundation’s website, “The most highly respected public health agencies and professional medical associations have rigorously studied the safety of the hepatitis B vaccine” (https://www.hepb.org/prevention-and-diagnosis/vaccination/vaccine-safety/). 

Hep B is known as a silent killer, and it is a vaccine-preventable disease at that. For nurses, addressing parents’ hesitancy and navigating a “no” for the hep B vaccine is priority when striving for maximum compliance. Nurses equipped with knowing how to voice the facts and recommendations in a way that doesn’t make parents feel argued with support a greater chance at swaying the decision to vaccinate their children. Using examples that parents can connect to helps achieve a level of understanding that can’t be reached with heavy scientific and textbook language. At the end of the day, if you’ve exhausted all resources and information and a parent still declines the hep B vaccine, simply document and hope for reconsideration down the road. 

This blog post is written by Lacey Hempeler, RN. 

Note: The Hepatitis B Foundation’s consult team can be reached via info@hepb.org. 

  

Podcast Recap: Barriers to Liver Cancer Surveillance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent episode on the B Heppy podcast, Dr. Neehar Parikh, a hepatologist at the University of Michigan, discussed the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer, barriers to screening for liver cancer, and screening methods for liver cancer.  

Hepatitis B and Liver Cancer 

Most people are not unaware of the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer. Hepatitis B can cause liver cancer, especially when left untreated or unmonitored. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) can cause serious damage to liver tissue and result in the growth of tumors that may become dangerous over time. This is why doctors recommend patients living with hepatitis B to continue to monitor their liver health and take treatment if necessary to prevent the progression to liver cancer. The best way to check for cancer is by screening. It is recommended to get liver cancer screening (usually through an ultrasound that looks at damaged tissue or abnormal cell growth) once every six months.  

Barriers to Liver Cancer Screening 

There are several barriers to liver cancer screening at the provider and patient levels. For providers, many times liver cancer screening is not prioritized when compared to other types of cancer screening programs. This is partially due to the limited evidence on liver cancer screening benefits (even though data exists to show that liver cancer screening is valuable, it’s not as strong as the evidence used to back up other cancer screening initiatives like colonoscopy or breast cancer screening). This makes liver cancer a less valuable option for providers to recommend to their patients. Providers are also not always following recommendations or guidelines from liver societies on hepatitis B management and liver cancer surveillance. Liver cancer screening is also not included in the United States Preventative Services Taskforce (USPSTF), which is a tool used by most providers in the U.S. to recommend preventative services to their patients.  

From the patient’s perspective, liver cancer screening is not always discussed by providers. For people living with chronic hepatitis B, many are not aware of the link between the virus and liver cancer. They are less likely to ask more questions about monitoring their liver health if the option or recommendation for screening is never brought up in a conversation with their providers. For many people who need liver cancer screening, they have limited access to care (loss to follow-up, lack of health insurance coverage, etc.). Limitations with the electronic health records (EHR) system is a challenge for patients who may find it difficult to schedule appointments (sometimes patients are not sent reminders to get ultrasounds). 

For people living with hepatitis B, liver cancer is a serious health risk. It is crucial to make sure patients are aware of the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer, the role of screening in early diagnosis and prevention of advanced tumors, and the importance of monitoring liver health as recommended by liver societies and guidelines on liver cancer surveillance.  

Listen to Dr. Parikh’s full episode on B Heppy here: https://bheppy.buzzsprout.com/1729790/14248470-barriers-to-liver-cancer-surveillance-with-dr-neehar-parikh. 

Additionally, the Hepatitis B Foundation recently launched a Learn the Link campaign to help spread information on the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer. View all about the campaign and get access to free resources here.: https://www.hepb.org/research-and-programs/liver/hbv-liver-cancer-connection/ 

Read about the Hep B Foundation’s Newly Launched Learn the Link Campaign with Dung Hua of the Vital Access Care Foundation

This month, we spoke with Dung Hua of the Vital Access Care Foundation, formerly known as the Vietnamese American Cancer Foundation. Dung and her team continuously work to address the needs of the Vietnamese community in Orange County, California and the surrounding areas. Dung spoke to us about her experiences addressing hepatitis B and liver cancer in this community, as well as her contribution to the Learn the Link campaign, which officially launches in February 2024. Dung shared the challenges she faces, her rewarding experiences and the many ways she works to connect with and educate her community. 

The Learn the Link campaign was created to raise awareness about the link between chronic hepatitis B infection and liver cancer in a culturally appropriate way for communities that are most impacted. It was informed by speaking directly with community members and created with their needs centered and prioritized. The Hepatitis B Foundation held focus groups and assembled an advisory committee to learn about the needs and concerns of the communities for which the educational materials were being created to ensure that the materials were informative and sensitive to the traditions and norms of different cultures.  

Can you introduce yourself and your organization

My name is Dung and I work for the Vital Access Care Foundation. We recently underwent a name change because we expanded our services to not only focus on cancer, though The Cancer Continuum of Care, and our liver cancer and hepatitis B programs are the primary focus. We started in 1998 and provided general cancer assistance services, which later developed into a breast cancer focus. In 2003, we started the liver and hepatitis B programs. One of our founders is an oncologist and the other is a gastroenterologist who provides consultation and guidance for our hepatitis B and liver cancer programs. 

Can you tell me about your organization’s programs that address hepatitis B and liver cancer directly? 

Our hepatitis B and liver cancer programs focus on the Vietnamese community. We provide outreach, education, patient navigation and screening. We start with education because many people in this population are not aware of hepatitis B. We host community screenings and bring screenings into the community at churches and cultural events. People are more willing to get screened when we bring screenings to these events. If someone tests positive for hepatitis B, we provide patient navigation and linkage to care. If someone needs to be vaccinated, we provide guidance to link people to the vaccine. If a case is more complicated, we consult with a board member who can provide a professional consultation at no cost. During the pandemic, we tried to tie hepatitis B to COVID-19 and encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and a hepatitis B screen at the same time. We leveraged our hepatitis B vaccine experience and surprisingly, a lot of people were willing to “get poked” twice in one day. 

Can you tell me about the community that your organization serves? 

We focus on the Vietnamese American community in Orange County. This community consists of  immigrants and refugees. In this community, there is still a lot of stigma around hepatitis B. Many people still believe that you can get hepatitis B from sharing a meal with people who are positive. In the Vietnamese community, there’s a saying: “If you sweep the floor, then you find garbage,” which is an idiom for avoiding the doctor; if you don’t go to the doctor, then you won’t know you’re sick. Culturally, you only share what is good. There’s a stigma with seeking help. You’re not supposed to share that you’re weak or struggle, which can lead people to internalize their pain. 

In addition to stigma, many people deal with undiagnosed mental health issues and the challenges of moving to a new country. This community also has lower rates of insurance coverage, which can make receiving routine medical care difficult. The Asian community also deals with the model minority misconception, which can be harmful because many people stereotype Asian people as well educated with a stable income, which isn’t always true.  

Many of the people we serve either speak limited English or no English at all. When people come to the United States (US), they need to immediately find a job and are often classified as low skilled workers. It’s hard for recent immigrants and refugees to have upward mobility. However, many people are motivated by creating better opportunities for their family and children.  

What are some challenges you face in addressing your community’s health concerns? 

The biggest challenges are stigma around disease and having culturally and linguistically appropriate materials. Languages are complicated. Different waves of immigration affect the way that you can communicate with people because languages change over time, which means finding a balance between older and newer languages and dialects is important. It continues to be a learning process for me, as I am exposed more and more to people in my community. It’s important and difficult to be responsive to stigma and all language and cultural barriers, but it is also the most rewarding part of the work.  

Why do you think that hepatitis B and liver cancer educational materials are so important for your community? 

They’re important because knowledge is power. The key to improving is understanding and knowledge, which comes from education. People won’t know what’s best for them if they don’t know the information, which needs to be reinforced through repetition. If people do things and they don’t understand why they are doing them, the behavior won’t last. But if they do understand, they can continue those behaviors and help to spread that information to others. 

What was your experience facilitating the focus groups and serving on the advisory committee that informed the Learn the Link campaign? 

I was there to support and provide observation of the focus group. What I remember is that the community members were very engaged. They have personal experience with hepatitis, which empowered them to engage more. It was a safe space for them to provide feedback. It was empowering for them to be a part of the process and to realize that they are being listened to. The effort of this project to create culturally appropriate materials and seek out feedback from this community allowed people to feel like they made a meaningful contribution to something important. 

While serving on the advisory committee, I remember a number of us were brought together from many different communities and we provided our thoughts and feedback on the project. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear the needs, concerns, and feedback from communities that we don’t typically work with. I found out that many things are similar among diverse communities and it was helpful for me to have the opportunity to learn more about other communities. Seeing everyone at the table providing their perspectives and hearing about the commonalities and the uniqueness was a very interesting experience. 

Why is it important that organizations speak directly with community members when creating campaigns like “Learn the Link”? 

It’s important for any campaign or activity to focus on the community. To be responsive to the community, we must listen to them. We don’t want to create something that we think is the best but doesn’t work for the people that it’s supposed to work for. That direct connection and relationship that allows community members to feel comfortable sharing direct feedback is the key to successful outreach and education.  

What is the most effective way for organizations to engage with your community? 

The most effective way to engage with the community is meeting them where they are. Being willing to go out of the way and find community members, and being open to understanding their needs and concerns is important. We can’t just work 9-5, we have to go out and find them in the community outside of regular working hours. We try to meet community members at flexible hours, host community meetings on the weekends, meet them at the temple or meet them at the park. We try to listen, understand and build rapport.  

Understanding the cultural and generation differences is important as well. For the Vietnamese population specifically, word-of-mouth is powerful. Information spreads in the community through word-of-mouth and can spread like wildfire.  

Connecting with community leaders and other people and organizations who work with the community directly is another way to connect with people. This stems from the immigrant and refugee background; people who lived through the war have a hard time trusting public entities but have trust in the people that they’ve built a rapport with. 

Do you have any final thoughts or comments about the “Learn the Link” campaign and its potential to improve the health practices of the people in your community? Are there any further materials you hope to see in the future? 

I checked out the materials when they were launched and pulled materials to show to a new employee, and I noticed that all materials were in English. When all the translations are available, it will be great to share with not only the community, but with people who work with the community as well. Hepatitis B may not be people’s priority, but with promotion, these materials can remind people that this silent killer is still around and there are resources available.  

What was your experience in helping to review and edit one of the final peer-reviewed manuscripts that will be submitted for publication from this project? 

There were a lot of words to read! Attending the advisory meetings, attending the focus groups, and reading the manuscript was spread out over a long period of time. But it was great to read the summary of all of the work that has been done. It was a nice refresher and I enjoyed reading quotes that resonated with me personally. Other communities have a lot of things in common with the Vietnamese community. It’s very exciting to collaborate together, since we are all doing this work.  

CHIPO Partner Highlight: Community Vision Group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin (CHIPO) is a community coalition that was co-founded and is led by the Hepatitis B Foundation. CHIPO is made up of organizations and individuals who are interested in addressing the high rates of hepatitis B infection among African communities in the U.S. and globally. Over the past two years, 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 communities, and increasing rates of screening, vaccination, and linkage to care.

This month, we spoke with Richard Makhenjera of Community Vision Group (CVG) Malawi. CVG is dedicated to advancing a poverty-free society where children can live to their full potential by helping transform communities through shared responsibility. They have multiple programs geared towards improving the overall health of children and their families in Malawi and Cameroon. The Hepatitis B Campaign started in 2021 and is one of their health initiatives focused on raising awareness of hepatitis B in communities of Malawi and Cameroon. According to the Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination, the estimated prevalence of hepatitis B is 8.39% in Malawi and 4.22% in Cameroon. Richard highlighted some of the organization’s ongoing work to decrease the burden of hepatitis B, barriers to achieving this goal, and his recent experiences at the African Hepatitis Summit that took place in Abuja, Nigeria in October of this year.

Could you please introduce yourself and your organization?

My name is Richard Makhenjera. I work with Community Vision Group Malawi as Program Administrator and Board Member. Community Vision Group (CVG) is a non-governmental organization which is registered in Cameroon, UK, and Malawi.

Could you tell me a little bit about what some of Community Vision Group’s programs are that specifically address hepatitis and other health concerns?

According to a 2022 Chiwindi Survey done in Karonga and Lilongwe, 95% of those interviewed who were living with hepatitis B were not aware of their hepatitis B status (Riches et al., 2023). This shows the gap in awareness. Community Vision Group is addressing hepatitis concerns in Africa, particularly in the context of Malawi, through engaging the public during major hepatitis-related events including World Hepatitis Day, outreach to schools and churches, targeted outreach programs to villages, and engaging in hepatitis B screening.

What is the main geographic area in which Community Vision Group works?

There are twelve districts in Malawi. Currently, we are focusing  in Zomba district and surrounding areas as our catchment areas with hope that we can grow and move across the country of Malawi.

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 challenge at hand is to take hepatitis messages to the larger masses since our capacity is small in both human and financial resources. The other challenge is reception of messages regarding hepatitis. This is because of both religious and cultural beliefs where some people do not even want to hear any message to do with hepatitis because it is highly linked or related to HIV/ AIDS. There is also resistance when it comes to receiving medical care for those living with hepatitis, as some of them resort to going for traditional healing remedies which can be very dangerous to their health. More awareness work needs to be done.

Additional resources would be very helpful so that CVG can reach the communities with these messages. Examples of these resources would be funding, training materials, printed literature on hepatitis B to distribute to both urban and rural areas, testing kits, and of course availability of adequate health workers in rural hospitals. There are a few projects that would benefit from these additional resources. The first would be to create both electronic and print media so that people are able to access the messages easily. Second, it would help to continue with follow up on those who have tested positive and see if they are keeping up with the counsel given to them by the medical people. Finally, linking suspected cases to appropriate medical centers for testing confirmation with patient consent is another area that could benefit from support.

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?

For Africa, particularly Malawi, the greatest barrier is traditional beliefs (cultural and religious). This is a very serious problem which is the root of most other identified barriers. This is a challenge which requires more awareness for people to change their perception so that they can receive messages related to hepatitis. I think we need to keep engaging the government authorities so that they introduce policies which motivate people to go for screening, and ensure that those found hepatitis B-positive start receiving medical care immediately. The absence of screening centers and medical care givers in rural areas is also another big barrier.

What are your favorite parts about your job?

More of my work in CVG is that of social work which is to engage with the masses in communities. I feel good when people get the right message on certain life-threatening issues and see them responding positively to the message.

Any other thoughts or ideas you’d like to share for improving health and closing health disparities among those in Africa?

For Africa, we are always at a disadvantage in several areas. Our medical facilities are not that user-friendly, and some areas do not even have access to medical facilities. It also takes time for people to get the right information on life-threatening issues. The absence of well-qualified medical doctors in rural medical centers or hospitals is also a threat to our health system. If we in Africa could address these health disparities, Africa would be safe for her citizens.

Can you share a little bit about your recent experience at the African Hepatitis Summit and how that meeting has helped advance your organization’s efforts?

The African Hepatitis Summit provided a platform for me to increase my understanding of viral hepatitis in my capacity as a social and community worker who directly spends more time with the people who have little or no knowledge of hepatitis. After the summit I felt more energized to increase the awareness campaign and other interventions so that this virus is completely eliminated in our communities. As CVG Malawi, this summit is indeed an eye opener as it has added to our intellectual resources and now, we must implement the new ideas learned at the Summit. 

I also attended a presentation from Confidence Nchinda, Program Administrator for Community Vision Group Cameroon, on “The Importance of Mother-to-Child Prevention : Perspectives of CVG Intervention in Cameroon.” She spoke from her personal experience with concerns during pregnancy about mother to child transmission (MTCT). She further presented on what CVG does in Cameroon so that there is no transmission from pregnant mothers to their children. For example, they do radio talks and outreach to churches, especially targeting women-led associations. They also engage in talks with pregnant women during antenatal care (ANC) visits in health centers. On radio talks their emphasis is on screening of pregnant women and postpartum periods. At CVG in Cameroon they also have priority actions for the prevention of MTCT. For example, mandatory antenatal hepatitis B surface antigen screening – thus the ongoing program, linkage to care and support for those testing positive to further reduce risk of perinatal transmission – of course, this is yet to start depending on resource availability.

View Hepatitis B Foundation toolkit on preventing MTCT here!

Thank you to Richard for taking the time to discuss CVG’s important work and to the rest of the staff and volunteers for their efforts to reduce the burden of hepatitis B in Africa! Check out pictures of CVG in action below!

Confidence Nchinda from Community Vision Group Cameroon presenting during the African Hepatitis Summit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CVG member raising awareness about hepatitis B in their community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riches, N., Njawala, T., Thom, N. J., Mkandawire, C., Mzumara, W., Phiri, F. P., Banda, L., Stanley, A. J., MacPherson, P., Stockdale, A., Crampin, A. C., & Nkoka, O. (2023). P23 The chiwindi study: results from a community-based hepatitis B serosurvey in Karonga, Malawi. Poster Presentations. https://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2023-bsg.96

Highlighting the Relationship between Hepatitis B and Liver Cancer

Highlighting the Relationship between hepatitis B and Liver Cancer

October marks Liver Cancer Awareness Month, an initiative highlighting this significant, but under-prioritized public health concern. Unfortunately, people living with hepatitis B have greater risk of developing liver cancer, and this risk is even higher for people born in countries where hepatitis B is more prevalent (Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], 2014; Chayanupatkul et al., 2017). Because of this, the Hepatitis B Foundation (HBF) conducted a study among foreign-born communities in the U.S. who are heavily impacted by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) to assess awareness levels about the connection between HBV and liver cancer. HBF used the perspectives and ideas expressed during these focus groups to create culturally and linguistically tailored, community-focused awareness and educational materials, so that everyone has continuous access to user-friendly HBV and liver cancer information.

From April to September 2021, the HBF conducted focus groups with people from the Micronesian, Chinese, Hmong, Nigerian, Ghanaian, Vietnamese, Korean, Somali, Ethiopian, Filipino, Haitian, and Francophone West African communities. A total of 15 virtual focus groups took place, with 101 individuals providing their thoughts about what hepatitis B and liver cancer are, and insights into appropriate strategies to educate their greater communities on the connection between these two conditions. The resulting communications campaign aims to improve the public’s knowledge about the link between HBV and liver cancer, reduce hepatitis B- and liver cancer-related myths and misconceptions, and promote hepatitis B and liver cancer screening and early detection among Asian and Pacific Islander (API) and African and Caribbean immigrant communities. The ideas and experiences voiced by focus group participants also contributed to the development of informational liver cancer materials for community health educators to integrate into existing education programs for immigrant communities.

Summary of focus group findings:

All focus groups emphasized the need for educational materials to highlight the relationship between hepatitis B and liver cancer. Interestingly, people were more aware of liver cancer and its serious health consequences than they were of hepatitis B and how it is a leading cause of liver cancer. Many people had personal experience with liver cancer, having known family members, friends or other community members who have died from the disease. With this, participants believed that people will be more likely to practice healthy behaviors, like vaccination and routine screening, when they know that HBV can lead to liver cancer and know what behaviors can reduce their risk of liver cancer and death. When people learn about the benefits of vaccination (like full protection against HBV and reducing the risk of transmitting the virus to loved ones), and screening (keeping your liver healthy), and are provided with resources and tools to manage their health, they are empowered and are more likely to make healthy choices to reduce their risk of severe health outcomes.

When educating people about the connection between the two diseases, it is also important to address the widespread misconceptions about both hepatitis B and liver cancer, which contribute to shame and stigma surrounding each condition. Many focus group participants revealed that their communities believe that HBV is related exclusively to sexual promiscuity, injection drug use and poor hygiene, all of which lead to stigma against people living with hepatitis B (PLHB), who are believed to be “immoral” or “dirty.” These stigmatizing beliefs cause PLHB to become reluctant to seek care and treatment for the virus, and can discourage screening in the greater community because people do not want to be shamed by or isolated from their social circles. Additionally, participants discussed how their communities believe that liver cancer is only associated with alcohol and are unaware of the causal relationship between HBV and liver cancer. According to focus group participants, educational materials should include some information about how hepatitis B is transmitted and how it can lead to liver cancer if left untreated and unmanaged. One way to do this is by including the personal testimonials of PLHB and liver cancer in educational materials, who show the audience how they stay healthy and maintain a good quality of life while living with these diseases. As people see how one’s quality of life does not diminish, and learn from the stories of people living with hepatitis B or liver cancer, they may become more understanding of the diseases and supportive of their own community members who are living with them.

Focus group participants were also asked to identify communication strategies that would be acceptable for their community groups. As for in-person communication, educational sessions should take place in settings where people feel safe, including community-based organizations, religious spaces, and healthcare offices. These sessions, as emphasized by participants, should be facilitated by trusted messengers, like patient navigators, doctors, and faith leaders, or other people who have a shared culture with the audience. Demonstrating cultural respect during face-to-face communication is also of utmost importance. Certain communities emphasized that it is especially important to have gender-specific messengers when discussing topics like sexual transmission of hepatitis B (Taylor et al., 2013; Cudjoe et al., 2021). 

Educational campaigns should also be strategic when discussing community-specific risk, as it is important to discuss each community’s risk without placing blame on a specific group. Despite the fact that countries in the Asian-Pacific and sub-Saharan African regions have endemic levels of HBV and the highest global incidence rates of liver cancer (Zamor et al., 2017), many focus groups explained that their communities consider HBV and liver cancer to be Western diseases, since the conditions are often not discussed in home countries, and are therefore unaware of both the severity of the diseases and their personal risk. Focus group participants agreed that informational material can group highly impacted communities together when presenting prevalence rates and risk factors, so as to reduce shame associated with HBV and liver cancer of one group while increasing audience awareness of their risk (Parvanta & Bass, 2018). 

Experiences of Community Focus Group Facilitators

Community participation and leadership was of utmost importance in this project. Two focus group facilitators recounted their experiences of recruiting and conducting focus groups with their communities. The first was the leader of the Cantonese focus group.

Despite being nervous about how it would turn out, one facilitator spent time thinking about the project. They chose to conduct the focus group in Chinese (Cantonese), the “native language of the participants,” and hoped that communicating in Cantonese would increase participant engagement, especially when discussing their “lived experience of the disease.” 

“Prior to convening the Zoom meeting, I had provided a one-on-one orientation to each participant about the theme of the focus group and expectations. As a result, everyone was ready and able to fully participate, and speak openly at the meeting. It was a fruitful discussion among the five participants. Everyone brought up their perspectives and insights about stigma and health education strategies to the community. They had expressed a sense of fear and emotional distress when they were made aware of the relationship between hepatitis B and liver cancer. They raised lots of questions on hepatitis B transmission, testing and vaccination, and liver cancer and treatment, and were very interested to learn more about necessary lifestyle changes if they contracted chronic hepatitis B. 

At the end participants had requested a follow-up session to learn more about HBV and liver cancer.  They will be excited to know about the release of the newly developed Chinese-language educational materials on both diseases, which came together because of their contributions. I would suggest Hepatitis B Foundation and UC Davis to host an in-person workshop to present  the new education materials.  That would be a meaningful outreach and education to the local Chinese and Asian communities.”

Another facilitator shared their thoughts and insights regarding the focus group they conducted with their African immigrant community. They felt that being a facilitator for this study was an “enlightening experience,” especially as they uncovered their community’s healthcare awareness as it relates to hepatitis B and liver cancer. They continued to share:

“Running the focus group gave me valuable insights into the knowledge gaps and misconceptions surrounding HBV within the African immigrant population. Through open and honest discussions, we uncovered specific areas where education and awareness initiatives can have a significant impact. Many participants needed to understand the transmission, prevention, and available resources related to these diseases. Understanding these nuances is crucial in tailoring our educational materials effectively.

Regarding the study findings, it was evident that there is a pressing need for culturally sensitive educational resources. The unique challenges African immigrants face, including language barriers and cultural differences, highlight the importance of creating materials that resonate with our community members. Moreover, the findings emphasized the urgency of dispelling myths and stigmas associated with HBV and fostering a supportive environment for affected individuals and their families.

As for the materials produced for the campaign, I am genuinely impressed with the effort and attention to detail put into their creation. The content is informative and culturally relevant, making it relatable to our community. Using images, culturally familiar scenarios, and visuals ensures that these materials will significantly raise awareness about HBV in my community.

When disseminated effectively, these materials will empower African immigrants with the knowledge they need to protect themselves and their loved ones. By addressing the specific concerns and questions raised during our focus group sessions, these resources have the potential to bridge the information gap and promote proactive healthcare practices within our community.”

Conclusion

The overall goals of these materials are to facilitate improved hepatitis B and liver cancer awareness, increase testing and prevention behaviors, and reduce misconceptions about the two diseases to ultimately reduce HBV- and liver cancer-related death. Thanks to the insights and recommendations from the focus group participants, educational hepatitis B and liver cancer materials were created in a culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate manner for a number of communities in the U.S. who are greatly impacted by the two diseases. To reach a broad audience, the materials will be available on multiple communication platforms and in multiple languages. This first part of the community-informed educational campaign can be found on the HBF’s Liver Cancer Connect website now. All materials will be fully uploaded and available to the public for further community education starting in February of 2024. Translated materials and messages tailored for audio and video formats will also be uploaded on a rolling basis. 

References

Chayanupatkul, M., Omino, R., Mittal, S., Kramer, J. R., Richardson, P., Thrift, A. P., El-Serag, H. B., & Kanwal, F. (2017). Hepatocellular carcinoma in the absence of cirrhosis in patients with chronic hepatitis B virus infection. Journal of Hepatology, 66(2), 355-362. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2016.09.013

Cudjoe, J., Gallo, J.J., Sharps, P., Budhathoki, C., Roter, D., & Han, H-R. (2021). The role of sources and types of health information in shaping health literacy in cervical cancer screening among African immigrant women: A mixed-methods study. Health Literacy Research and Practice, 5(2), e96-e108. doi: 10.3928/24748307-20210322-01

Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). Action plan for the prevention, care, & treatment of viral hepatitis. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hong, Y.A., Juon, H.S., & Chou, W.Y.S. (2021). Social media apps used by immigrants in the United States: Challenges and opportunities for public health research and practice. mHealth, 7, 52. doi: 10.21037/mhealth-20-133

Hong, Y.A., Yee, S., Bagchi, P., Juon, H.S., Kim, S.C., & Le, D. (2022). Social media-based intervention to promote HBV screening and liver cancer prevention among Korean Americans: Results of a pilot study. Digital Health, 8, 20552076221076257. https://doi.org/10.1177/20552076221076257 

Joo, J.Y. (2014). Effectiveness of culturally tailored diabetes interventions for Asian immigrants to the United States: A systematic review. The Diabetes Educator, 40(5), 605-615. DOI: 10.1177/0145721714534994

Parvanta, C., & Bass, S. (2018). Health communication: Strategies and skills for a new era: strategies and skills for a new era. Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.

Porteny, T., Alegria, M., del Cueto, P., Fuentes, L., Lapatin Markle, S., NeMoyer, A., & Perez, G.K. (2020). Barriers and strategies for implementing community-based interventions with minority elders: Positive minds-strong bodies. Implementation Science Communications, 1, 41. doi: 10.1186/s43058-020-00034-4

Taylor, V.M., Bastani, R., Burke, N., Talbot, J., Sos, C., Liu, Q., Jackson, J.C., & Yasui, Y. (2013). Evaluation of a hepatitis B lay health worker intervention for Cambodian Americans. Journal of Community Health, 38(3), 546-553. doi: 10.1007/s10900-012-9649-6

Zamor, P. J., deLemos, A. S., & Russo, M. W. (2017). Viral hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma: Etiology and management. Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology, 8(2), 229–242. https://doi.org/10.21037/jgo.2017.03.14

Podcast Recap: Current Treatments in Development for Hepatitis B with Dr. John Tavis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent B Heppy episode, Dr. John Tavis, a molecular microbiologist at St. Louis University School of Medicine, shared updates on curative therapies for hepatitis B along with insights on how treatments for hepatitis B are researched and approved for use. 

Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause serious liver disease such as liver cancer or liver failure if undiagnosed, unmanaged or without proper intervention and treatment. While there is no cure for hepatitis B at this time, there are treatment options available to manage the virus. Research to find an optimal and functional cure for hepatitis B is ongoing and clinical trials have been very successful in advancing research pertaining to the cure.  

In some experimental studies conducted around the globe, 30% to 40% of patients have achieved functional cure. In smaller studies, approximately 50% of patients have obtained functional cure. However, research on the cure and the progression of these clinical interventions are still ongoing. While the future looks promising for a functional cure for hepatitis B, existing treatments should not be undermined or overlooked as they provide effective protection from serious liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.  

There are key terms that are important to understand related to drug development and the hepatitis B space. Below we describe complete, functional and partial cure definitions according to researchers.  

Complete, Functional, and Partial Cure 

Complete Cure: Elimination of all traces of hepatitis B including loss of surface antigen and HBV DNA. 

Functional Cure: the loss of hepatitis B surface antigen and undetectable HBV DNA levels, although trace amounts of HBV DNA may persist in the liver.  

Partial Cure: A stable suppression of the virus with undetectable HBV DNA levels. 

The progress on the cure: 

Current progress and research indicate that a combination of drugs will provide the best outcome as it is not likely that only one drug will achieve a functional cure for hepatitis B at this time. There are different types of drugs that are being studied and each treatment focus on a different aspect of the lifecycle of the virus to prevent replication and growth.  

Some of the current options being studied for hepatitis B treatment include: 

Antisense RNA and SiRNA: These drugs work by suppressing and destroying the viral messenger RNA, which is crucial to make proteins and replicate HBV DNA. Current drugs that use this mechanism to target the virus include Bepirovirsen. Clinical trials have shown effective reduction in HBV DNA and viral proteins.  

Suppressing and destroying the viral RNA (destroys proteins—RNA makes proteins,  

CAMs (capsid assembly modifiers): These drugs work by disrupting the formation of capsids. Capsids provide a protective space for the genetic material of the virus to make sure it is able to transfer to the host cell without any complications. By disrupting the formation of the capsids, the virus is unable to replicate itself as the genetic material gets destroyed during the process.  

NAPs (Nucleic Acid Polymers): These drugs work by blocking secretion of the viral surface antigen outside of the cells so the virus is unable to spread to other cells. In the process, the surface antigen drops in the bloodstream and the immune system is alerted to attack the virus.  

Nucleotide Analogues: These drugs are the first-line treatments for hepatitis B. Antiviral treatments like entecavir and tenofovir are incredibly effective in suppressing HBV viremia and preventing progression of the virus from becoming cancerous. Although they are not considered functional cure, these drugs have low toxicity and are effective in treating people living with hepatitis B.  

 

To stay updated on developments in hepatitis B research, check out our Drug Watch page: https://www.hepb.org/treatment-and-management/drug-watch-2/ 

To listen to the full episode on our podcast, B Heppy, click here. https://bheppy.buzzsprout.com/1729790/13238616-current-treatments-in-development-for-hepatitis-b 

Podcast Recaps: A Global Perspective on Stigma and Discrimination Against Hepatitis B

B Heppy Recap: A Global Perspective on Stigma and Discrimination Against Hepatitis B 

Catherine Freeland is the Associate Director of Public Health Research at the Hepatitis B Foundation. As a researcher and founder of the Foundation’s Hepatitis B Discrimination Working group, Dr. Freeland shares more about the impact of discrimination and stigma as it pertains to people living with hepatitis B.  

What is the difference between stigma and discrimination? 

  • It’s important to understand stigma and discrimination are different. Stigma is a social process that is characterized by being excluded, rejected, and devalued because of the social judgement associated with a certain condition. Although the literature on the topic is limited, it has been shown that stigma related to hepatitis B has negatively impacted the quality of life for those living with hepatitis B around the globe. Discrimination is different in that it is characterized by the laws and behaviors that limit opportunities for growth. For example, denying access to education or work because someone is living with hepatitis B is a form of discrimination. Discrimination is often a result of stigma.  

What are the causes for stigma and discrimination as it pertains to hepatitis B? 

  • Lack of knowledge and understanding about hepatitis B in the community is a root cause of stigma and discrimination. Most people are unaware of what hepatitis B is and how it can be transmitted. This often results in rumors, myths and misconceptions spreading in the community and unfortunately can alienate people living with hepatitis B.  

How does stigma and discrimination against hepatitis B affect the lived experiences of people in the community? 

  • When myths and misconceptions spread about hepatitis B in the community, people with lived experience often face discrimination. A lot of people are required to undergo health screenings prior to starting employment.  If they test positive for hepatitis B, they can be denied employment and/or can be fired from their jobs in many parts of the world. It can then be difficult to find another job and support their families. For people who wish to get employment visas to work abroad, they are required to undergo health screenings. In the Philippines and the Gulf Coast (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates countries), it is common practice to deny employment visas to people living with hepatitis B. In some countries and cultures, pre-marital screening. We have also heard cases of individuals living with hepatitis B experience more challenges in custody of their children in divorce or separation cases.  

How can we address these challenges and what is the Foundation doing to support people experiencing discrimination? 

  • It is important for people with lived experience to speak up and share their experiences of stigma and discrimination. At the Hepatitis B Foundation, we have a discrimination registry where people can fill out survey responses pertaining to any discrimination, they are facing in their home countries. The survey is free and open access. We also have a working group of experts consisting of people with lived experience and community leaders and partners. By raising awareness about discrimination, we are working towards changes in policy across the globe to reduce stigma, improve lives, and give people living with hepatitis B a voice that matters. Ultimately everyone has a role to play in addressing discrimination and it starts with education and sharing accurate information on hepatitis B and advocating against this discrimination and stigma.  

 

Listen to the full episode here! 

CHIPO Partner Highlight: Falcons Health Foundation of Accra, Ghana

The Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin (CHIPO) is a community coalition that was co-founded and is led by the Hepatitis B Foundation. CHIPO is made up of organizations and individuals who are interested in addressing the high rates of hepatitis B infection among African communities in the U.S. and globally. 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 communities, and increasing rates of screening, vaccination, and linkage to care.  This month, we spoke with Samuel Addai of the Falcons Health Foundation (FHF) based in Accra, Ghana. Samuel and his team continuously work to reduce the disease burden of viral hepatitis B and C throughout the country. Concerning hepatitis B specifically, Ghana is considered to be a highly endemic country, with an estimated hepatitis B prevalence of 12.3% to 14.4% (Efua et al., 2023). Samuel spoke with us about the barriers he and his team face battling viral hepatitis in Ghana, the strategies they use to overcome those challenges, his reason for doing this vital work and his hopes for the future.

 Could you please introduce yourself and your organization? 

 My name is Samuel Addai. I’m from Ghana. I was born and raised here. I am the founder and the leader of Falcons Health Foundation. I have about 15 [employees] of which five are public health officers. And then also three of them are lab technicians. And I have three national officers. I have two midwives as well, and two community health workers. 

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

 We create public awareness about viral hepatitis B and C. We are also advocates for those with hepatitis. And then we also give treatment guidelines; and  do treatment services for people, as well as  free health screenings. If we didn’t do this, people would not be bold enough to come out. There is stigmatization of these diseases. We explain that hypertension and high blood sugar causes a lot of health conditions. We explain to them signs and symptoms of HIV and viral hepatitis. Once we are done with this explanation, if they allow us, then we start the screening.  

 What is the main geographic area in which FHF works? 

 Ghana has 16 regions. We started in the capital Accra. The capital is very big and we cannot go to every area. What we normally do is select some areas from which more complaints are coming. Especially Circle and then Madina and Ashaima [areas of Ghana]. We also go to part of the Ashanti region and to Bono region. We also go to the Northern part of Ghana, Tamale, and the Central part, Winneba. These are very big regions, so we only go to certain parts. The rest, we have yet to decide. 

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

 There is a lack of knowledge regarding viral hepatitis in the regions we service. We realized that the kind of health information that they recieive…[is] misinformation. And then also some people, due to cultural practices and their beliefs, do not seek treatment or testing. We did brief interviews and found that they believe that viral hepatitis and HIV are a result of juju, or spiritual forces, witches, and wizards. Some people also think that viral hepatitis and HIV diseases are a curse from their ancestors. Some of these issues, since they are due to a lack of knowledge and education, what we normally do is educate them and explain to them that witches and wizards are not the cause of these diseases. We try as much as we can to educate them. We explain to them the cause of these diseases. We do intensive education. Some people pretend not to believe us, but then they will come back later and say ‘check for me.’ Later they also laugh and talk about what they used to believe. Their response tells us that they are ready to take a test.   

Lack of sustained financing is our burden. We find it difficult in terms of the transport system. And also social media platforms, most of them give mistrust. They say that the viral hepatitis vaccine, the side effects are harmful to health. We normally try as much as we can to overcome the misinformation.  

 And then also, some equipment and materials for testing can be a problem. And if we are able to get a center, we could do testing permanently. Currently, we do not have a center that we can use as a permanent place for testing. When we go to the areas, maybe we can just sit in a place at the roadside or in classrooms, which is not very helpful. We also do tents at the park. We give our information to [people]. We use information centers in the area to announce that we are back at a particular place and that people should come to us. So if we are able to get a small facility at least, which could take maybe 100 patients, it would be very helpful for us. We are doing very difficult work here and no one is paying us. This is a sacrifice that we are taking on.  

 What do you think are some of the biggest barriers in raising awareness and addressing rates of hepatitis screening and linkage to care?  

 The biggest barriers that we can encounter is the language barrier. In Ghana, the entire country is not speaking one language. English language is our official language. Those who do not attend schools, those who do not have any educational background find it difficult to understand English language. A day before our program, we invite some people in that particular area and we negotiate with them and ask if it is possible for them to translate their language to their people. And then also we do sign language, especially for disabled people. Another major barrier is stigmatization. Everybody feels shy and thinks “maybe this person knows me well” or “maybe this person knows my family.” Many people fear coming out in public to get tested. 

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

 What I love most and my favorite part here is the impact that we are making in communities. The testimonies that people are sharing to us. We really love this. At least people have received a good health impact in their lives. 

 Saving lives is my priority. Saving lives is what got me interested. I studied general medicine and then later also I studied public health. 

 Any other thoughts or ideas you’d like to share for improving health in Ghana, at both the community and national levels? 

 I believe that supporting these programs are very, very important so that we can reach out to many people because it seems that many people do not have this particular information yet. I believe that many people are not getting awareness. Information is very important, so if many people received this information, it would be helpful for the program. 

 We have a plan to develop an electronic data management system and surveillance system. Ghana does not currently have a hepatitis B or C elimination plan in place. We want to develop this so that it can help us keep data. 

 We want to reduce mother-to-child transmission by ensuring testing for pregnant women is free to all pregnant women. Before someone can get tested, they pay out of their pocket. Many people do not have the money to get the test, so we want to do that for them so that their health can be improved by knowing their status. 

 Let me add this too: Treatment is only available in teaching hospitals and this must be fully financed by the patient. Currently there is no public budget line for testing and treatment. We want to do free health screening so that this will help improve people’s health. 

 Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share? 

 What I can say is that me and my team, we have been able to acquire land and we want to be able to use it as a center. If we are able to get the necessary support, we can put up a small facility so that many people will know our exact location. In case there is any issue, they can visit our center. The problem here in Ghana, the government is not supportive at all. Even the government health facilities, they are having problems. They lack a lot. We don’t get support from the government. The people who received services from us support us. Later, they come to us and say “I’m okay, [my health is] fine now” and out of their joy, they support us. Other than that, we do not have support. 

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

Below are some photos that Samuel shared of his team doing their incredible work across Ghana.


Efua, S.-D. V., Adwoa, W. D., & Armah, D. (2023, January 20). Seroprevalence of hepatitis B virus infection and associated factors among health care workers in southern Ghana. IJID Regions. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2772707623000097#:~:text=In%20Ghana%2C%20the%20prevalence%20of,the%20general%20population%20%5B7%5D.