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CHIPO Partner Highlight: Illinois Public Health Association

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 composed of organizations and individuals who are interested in addressing the high rates of hepatitis B infection among African communities in the US. Over the past year, CHIPO has grown its membership to include nearly 50 community-based organizations and federal agencies, all of which are working to meet the common goal 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 partners, the Illinois Public Health Association, and their Outreach Coordinator, Monde Nyambe. Please enjoy a recent interview with Monde, as she describes her work, including successes and challenges, and the positive impacts she and IPHA have had throughout the state of Illinois.

 Could you please introduce yourself and your organization?

Monde: My name is Monde Nyambe, and I am the Outreach Coordinator for the Illinois Public Health Association, which is the oldest and largest public health association in the state of Illinois. I work specifically in the area of addressing hepatitis B among African communities around the state. IPHA has had a hep B grant for some time and the focus has actually primarily been on African communities – it was only in the past fiscal year that AAPI communities have been included in this grant as well. All of IPHA’s hepatitis B efforts do fall under the umbrella of the HIV/STI/viral hepatitis section. I started at the organization as an AmeriCorps member in November of 2020, and then was hired on to connect with African communities in the area, around the topic of hepatitis B. I am very glad to have had a role in really growing IPHA’s initiative and moving the outreach project along from the beginning – during my time here, I have built connections and made contacts with grassroots organizations and individuals, including a large and engaged group of African pastors in the area, who are vital to sharing important and valuable health information.

Could you tell me a little bit about what some of IPHA’s programs are that specifically address hepatitis?

Monde: A lot of the organization’s focus has been on educating institutions and utilizing African community members who are influential in their spheres to help raise awareness and educate community members about hepatitis B. One important undertaking has been to recruit MPH students of African descent to distribute materials and make connections, and to offer assistance with services – this has been quite effective. We have been able to utilize a partnership between a local Planned Parenthood and Merck Pharmaceuticals to meet community members where they are and to offer a sliding scale for hepatitis B vaccines. We have also been able to conduct outreach to ESL students at community colleges in the area and have been able to reach about 100 students in this way. This has been overall very successful and many of the students were quite engaged and had a lot of questions. One occasional barrier is that strict religious beliefs can sometimes impede open discussion of health issues like hepatitis B.

Which countries are primarily represented in your area’s African diaspora?

Monde: We have a huge Congolese community around Champaign and in Central Illinois, and there are many West African immigrants in the Rock Island area as well.

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

Monde: The biggest challenge is definitely awareness – people often do not realize that hepatitis B is a problem in their communities. Another challenge is finding individuals who are willing and able to do targeted health communication outreach (like the group of pastors mentioned previously). We have been able to do brief interviews with Facebook influencers, which have been helpful, and to build connections with passionate community members. One big lesson I have learned is to not be afraid to reach out to people that you may know personally and they in turn can reach out to their networks – personal relationships work well for this type of outreach!

Another big challenge in hepatitis B and health outreach to African communities is finding materials in the appropriate languages and dialects. Even after all my time in this country, I have not been able to find materials of any kind that are printed in my native language. Many times, materials are printed in standard languages like French, Swahili, and Amharic, but there are different versions of even those languages that many community members may not readily understand. Also, not everyone knows the official languages of different countries. If and when resources are created in a greater number of languages, it is important to pilot-test them in the communities to ensure that they are accurate and meaningful in the language as it is used in daily life.

Additionally, many people who are newly arrived to this country don’t know much about how to navigate the healthcare system here and don’t have health insurance. If they do have health insurance, they may not know that hepatitis B testing and vaccination are covered under their plan. One idea that might be helpful would be to have an easily accessible list of African healthcare providers or community health workers who are interested in serving their own communities. This might help people to feel more comfortable and that their healthcare provider relates to their personal experiences.

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?

Monde: I think again that awareness continues to be the biggest issue here and that continued engagement with leaders in this area is important and crucial for advocacy. People need to recognize the consequences of not testing for, preventing, and treating hepatitis B. Leaders need to also continue to hear about disparities that exist in healthcare, such as the high rates of hepatitis B in African communities around the US. Encouraging more community members to be involved in grassroots advocacy can also go a long way toward policy formulation, increased awareness, and, importantly, more funding for efforts to combat hepatitis B. It would be great if some of the same energy and efforts that have been used in the HIV space over the past several decades could be used in the hep B space as well.

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

Monde: Yes, definitely! High rates of hepatitis B are connected to economic status, English language proficiency, immigration status – even things like having knowledge of and access to public transportation to get to appointments on time is part of the issue as well. Understanding of cultural customs that may be confusing and pose challenges for those who are new to this country, like leaving a voicemail and navigating the phone systems of many doctor’s offices and clinics, should also be considered when ensuring that healthcare and health information are truly culturally and linguistically appropriate and actually accessible for all communities. The social determinants of health are important and must be considered in making decisions and designing everything from communications campaigns to policies.

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

Monde: I started out as a social worker and when I came to the US, became a nursing assistant. I worked in a nursing home, and, while in school, an advisor recommended a public health class to me and this changed everything! I started outreach work and really liked public health – I then became an AmeriCorps member and started my journey at IPHA! I have most enjoyed interacting with people from many different walks of life, answering questions, and offering guidance and clarity around hepatitis B. Seeing all different sides of the issue has been challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on your work and the role of IPHA in raising awareness and conducting outreach about hepatitis B to African communities across the state of Illinois. We appreciate all that you do!

Monde: Thank you!

Celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, And Get Tested for Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month – a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The month of May was selected in 1978 to mark the first major Japanese immigration to the United States (May 7, 1843), and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (May 10, 1869), built primarily by Chinese immigrants.

Like all immigrants, Asians and Pacific Islanders brought with them unique cultures, languages, and lingering health problems from their homeland, including hepatitis B.

This blood-borne infection, unknowingly passed from mother-to-child, is an infection without a cure that would impact Asian immigrants and their children for decades until a vaccine was developed.

Today, administration of the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine along with a dose of HBIG within 12 hours of birth severs this viral legacy and protects newborns from inheriting this infection. But that is not the end of the story. There are still many Asian-Americans who remain infected, and many Asian immigrants arriving today live with hepatitis B.

An estimated one in 12 Asian-Americans currently has hepatitis B, and two in three don’t know they are infected. Their infection rate is more than 20 times higher than that of the total U.S. population. Hepatitis B is the greatest health disparity between Asian-Americans and the general U.S. population. Approximately 1 million Asian-Americans are living with chronic hepatitis B infection – that’s about half of all cases in the United States. Continue reading "Celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, And Get Tested for Hepatitis B"

It’s Hepatitis Awareness Month: Five Reasons We Don’t Get Tested, and How to Overcome Them

Members of Drexel University's Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association participate in a hepatitis B screening program at a Chinese Christian church in Philadelphia.
Members of Drexel University’s Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association participate in a hepatitis B screening program at a Chinese Christian church in Philadelphia.

May is Hepatitis Awareness month. Why do we need an annual reminder about hepatitis B? Because 65 percent of the estimated 2.2 million people in the U.S. living with hepatitis B don’t know they’re infected.

Studies show when people know their hepatitis B status, they’re more likely to get monitored regularly, get treatment, and take steps to avoid passing on the disease to partners and their children.

So why are so many Americans unaware of their hepatitis B infection? Here are five roadblocks that stop us from getting tested for hepatitis B, and what how we can do to overcome them.

We feel fine, so we assume we’re not infected. Hepatitis B rarely causes symptoms. There are very few sensory nerves around the liver, so when a viral hepatitis infection strikes, we rarely feel its effects. As a result, most of us – especially if we were infected as children or newborns – never experience any symptoms for decades. So remember, “feeling OK” is no excuse to avoid testing. Continue reading "It’s Hepatitis Awareness Month: Five Reasons We Don’t Get Tested, and How to Overcome Them"

Help Stop Insurers from Over-Charging Patients for Hepatitis B Drugs on the Healthcare Marketplace

Image courtesy of Taoty at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Taoty at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

For years, people with pre-existing conditions like chronic hepatitis B struggled to get health insurance. News stories and Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko highlighted insurance companies’ refusal to cover pre-existing conditions and their practice of inflating premium prices if consumers had chronic health problems.

Outraged by industry efforts to cover only low-cost, “healthy” consumers, lawmakers banned discrimination  against pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA – Obamacare). The ACA’s Healthcare Marketplace website promises, “Your insurance company can’t turn you down or charge you more because of your pre-existing health or medical condition like asthma, back pain, diabetes, or cancer.”

While health plans sold on the marketplace can’t openly refuse to insure people with pre-existing conditions, some have devised an insidious way to discourage people with hepatitis B from buying their policies. They have dramatically increased the copays consumers pay out-of-pocket for the two leading hepatitis B antiviral drugs (Viread and generic entecavir) to deliberately make their health plans unaffordable for people with chronic hepatitis B. Continue reading "Help Stop Insurers from Over-Charging Patients for Hepatitis B Drugs on the Healthcare Marketplace"

The Ugly Intersection of Prejudice, Immigration, and Hepatitis B

By Christine Kukka

 Image courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

A few weeks ago, an ill-informed New England governor proclaimed illegal immigrants were bringing in infectious diseases, including hepatitis, HIV, and tuberculosis. Recently, similar anti-immigration, fear-mongering from presidential candidates has filled the airways.

For hundreds of years, disease has been used as reasons to stop immigration to the United States. During the early 1800s, officials claimed the Irish brought cholera into the country. The Italians were believed to carry polio and tuberculosis was called the Jewish disease. In 1900, the Asian-American community in San Francisco was believed to be infected with bubonic plague that posed a threat to public health. Residents were subjected to mandatory injections with an experimental drug until a court order halted the local public health campaign.

Throughout the 19th and 20th century, “politics was saturated with attacks on immigrants as diseased intruders to the body politic,” wrote American University history professor Alan M. Kraut in Foreign Bodies: The Perennial Negotiation over Health and Culture in a Nation of Immigrants. This dialogue led to revision of the 1882 Immigration Act to exclude, “persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease” from entry into the United States. Continue reading "The Ugly Intersection of Prejudice, Immigration, and Hepatitis B"

First World Hepatitis Summit Focuses on Global Plan for Elimination by 2030

The joint North and South Americas group build relationships across borders to eradicate hepatitis B.
The North and South Americas group builds relationships to eradicate viral hepatitis.

The mood was euphoric. It was a love fest, actually. Last week, more than 600 policy makers, public health experts, and representatives from non-governmental organizations and patient advocacy groups from 80 countries were invited to participate in the first World Hepatitis Summit in Scotland hosted by the World Hepatitis Alliance in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO). The Hepatitis B Foundation was pleased to be invited and to speak during the pre-summit meeting as well.

The message was serious. Hepatitis B and C kill more people each year than HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and combined are the seventh-leading cause of death worldwide, yet viral hepatitis as a global health concern remains mostly invisible and under-funded. Continue reading "First World Hepatitis Summit Focuses on Global Plan for Elimination by 2030"

“How Did You Get Hepatitis B?” Why We Should Answer

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

Telling someone you have hepatitis B is almost always followed by the question, “how did you get it?”

The question can feel like an invasion of privacy or an indictment. Behind the question lurks a desire for reassurance that hepatitis B won’t happen to them, but of course it can. And that’s why we should answer and tell our story.

On a global scale, the story of hepatitis B is the story of humanity. How we and our forebears became infected results from centuries of human migrations, the transatlantic slave trade, political upheaval, poverty, re-used medical devices and ineffective public health policies. Continue reading "“How Did You Get Hepatitis B?” Why We Should Answer"

The Hepatitis B Patient Community Loses Its “Mom”

Hep B List "parents" Sheree Martin and Steve Bingham at a 2005 patient conference.
Hep B List “parents” Sheree Martin and Steve Bingham at a 2005 patient conference.

The hepatitis B community recently lost its much-loved advocate, resource and “mom,” Sheree Martin. She was co-owner of the Hepatits B Information and Support List from 1998 to 2011 and comforter and consultant to thousands of people around the world who live with hepatitis B.

The reach of her kindness and wisdom cannot be under-estimated. In the early days of hepatitis B, when medical treatment was misguided and stigma ran rife, Sheree nurtured a safe, online community that provided reassurance and accurate medical information. For many, it was the first time they were able to share the confusion, loneliness and frustration of living with chronic hepatitis B with people just like them. Continue reading "The Hepatitis B Patient Community Loses Its “Mom”"

Preparing for College, Dating and Disclosing Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When my daughter, who has chronic hepatitis B, packed for her freshman year of college, I peppered her with warnings about the need for standard precautions and condoms. I suggested wording for a future conversation where she would disclose her infection and negotiate safe sex with a potential partner.

I hoped these verbal dress rehearsals would empower and protect her, especially if that potential boyfriend turned her down. I wanted her to know that any rejection would not be about her or her hepatitis B, it would be about his fears. Continue reading "Preparing for College, Dating and Disclosing Hepatitis B"

Do You Have to Tell Your Employer About Your Hepatitis B?

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Do I have to tell my new employer about my hepatitis B?”

After years of cautiously completing medical forms for schools, camps and college, my daughter’s question took me by surprise. It shouldn’t have. Many jobs—even when they don’t involve direct medical care—require a physical exam and confirmation of hepatitis B immunization.

There may be a safe and effective vaccine and new treatments for hepatitis B, but ignorance and stigma remain stubbornly entrenched in many HR departments. So here is what every job applicant, employee and employer should know about hepatitis B and employment.

During the application process or job interview, can an employer ask about my health? Continue reading "Do You Have to Tell Your Employer About Your Hepatitis B?"