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CHIPO Partner Highlight: Great Lakes Peace Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arafat: Thank you very much!

CHIPO Is Looking for New Members!

By Beatrice Zovich

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a member of the African diaspora in the United States? Do you work for an organization that serves these communities? We would love for you to join CHIPO – the Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin! CHIPO is a national community coalition, co-founded and led by the Hepatitis B Foundation. Our members include a variety of individuals and organizations from all over the country, who are interested in and focused on addressing the high rates of hepatitis B among African communities in the US., which are disproportionately affected by hepatitis B and liver cancer. In some parts of the country, rates of chronic hepatitis B infection in African communities are estimated to range between 5 and 15% of people. 

The purpose of CHIPO is to provide a space for an open exchange of ideas, best practices, and  information about how to dismantle some of the many barriers that stand in the way of preventing, diagnosing, and treating chronic hepatitis B infection, and preventing liver cancer, in African immigrant communities. These barriers include a lack of disease awareness, high rates of stigma, limited access to healthcare and services, and the silent nature of the disease, which often does not present any symptoms until significant liver damage has occurred – a process which could take years or even decades. As a result, most African community members who have hepatitis B DO NOT KNOW that they are infected. This puts them at much greater risk for premature death from cirrhosis or liver cancer.

CHIPO, meaning “gift” in the Shona language, aims to disseminate accurate information about hepatitis B transmission, prevention, and treatment among community members, healthcare providers, and organizational leaders, and to improve the national capacity to raise hepatitis B awareness, testing, vaccination, and linkage to care among highly affected African communities. CHIPO also works to ensure that African immigrant communities are represented in HBV discussions and programs regionally and nationally. This is achieved through advocacy and the development of national and local partnerships. We currently have over 35 coalition partners around the U.S., dedicated to addressing viral hepatitis in African communities.

The activities of CHIPO are many and diverse. They include bimonthly virtual meetings, which often center around a presentation by a coalition member about measures or interventions that have been undertaken or research that has been done to achieve one of CHIPO’s objectives – namely improving awareness about and access to hepatitis B information, screening, vaccination, and linkage to follow-up care. Other activities include educational community events and presentations; supporting the design and implementation of initiatives to help accomplish CHIPO’s goals, such as the CDC Know Hepatitis B campaign (discussed below) and a recent grant from Bristol Myers Squibb to raise awareness about liver cancer and understanding about the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer in African immigrant communities; and promoting the work of coalition members locally and nationwide. 

An example of a project for which CHIPO provided great support and guidance was the production of the first nationally available hepatitis B educational resources, specifically for African populations. Created in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these materials are part of a train-the-trainer-based model, and include a suite of materials, including a downloadable presentation on hepatitis B for community health workers, a printable flip chart for direct community education, and supporting fact sheets and resources. The presentation and flip chart have also been translated into Amharic, Arabic, French, and Swahili. 

To read more about CHIPO, including previous blog posts, articles, and meeting minutes, and to access a full list of our members and the work they are doing around the country, visit our website

Does this work sound interesting to you? Would you like to work with us to achieve lower rates of hepatitis B and liver cancer in African immigrant communities through increasing awareness, screening, vaccination, and linkage to care? Join us! Anyone is welcome to join CHIPO – contact the coordinator to get involved. We hope to see you on our next call!

Hepatitis B Foundation Introduces 300 Million Reasons Movement

By Beatrice Zovich

The Hepatitis B Foundation is excited to launch a new movement called 300 Million Reasons, named for the almost 300 million people worldwide who are living with hepatitis B. The goal of this movement is to improve awareness about hepatitis B and liver cancer worldwide, to promote engagement of key stakeholders, and to empower people impacted by hepatitis B across the globe to become vocal advocates. We want to amplify the voices and stories of the millions of people directly affected by this disease, in order to make sure that hepatitis B is granted the funding, attention, and serious consideration that it deserves. The 300 Million Reasons movement will be officially launched in July of 2021, in time for World Hepatitis Day, but we wanted to begin sharing resources and information now. 

This movement is divided into four branches: B Informed, B Connected, B the Voice, and B the Change. Each of these arms is described below. 

B Informed

Hepatitis B can be prevented, treated, and managed. The B Informed branch of the 300 Million Reasons movement involves raising awareness about hepatitis B and liver cancer, providing accurate information, dispelling myths and misconceptions, decreasing stigma and discrimination, and providing simple hepatitis B educational tools, which will focus on transmission, prevention, liver cancer screening, and living with chronic hepatitis B. We have created a free and downloadable social media toolkit that can help spread the word about statistics, vaccines, testing, monitoring and care, symptoms, blood tests, acute vs. chronic hepatitis B and more. Check it out today! 

B Connected

You are not alone! The B Connected arm of 300 Million Reasons works to increase access to clinical trials, expand global connections to support people living with hepatitis B and their loved ones around the world, establish international peer mentoring programs, and create a social network and further community engagement opportunities for people impacted by hepatitis B. This branch of the movement will be modeled after current coalition work that has been done with Hep B United and the Coalition Against Hepatitis in People of African Origin

B the Voice

Your voice matters! The B the Voice component of the 300 Million Reasons movement is focused primarily on international storytelling and elevating the voices of those living with and affected by hepatitis B around the world. Stories of discrimination, stigma, screening, diagnosis, treatment, supporting community and family members, personal and larger-scale successes, setbacks and victories – all are important to share and learn about in order to raise awareness, inspire change, and eventually find a cure. Do you have a story to share? We would love to read it! Share your story today using this link

B the Change

Stand up, speak out! B the Change aims to increase activism among those living with hepatitis B and their loved ones and to use this as a tool to advance the cause of increasing knowledge about and support for hepatitis B among legislators and policy-makers. It will include national and international community ambassadors, strong relationships with the World Hepatitis Alliance and other key partners, outreach to people living with hepatitis B who have not had prior involvement in this effort, and advocacy training and opportunities. With knowledge can come action – let’s build a strong communication network to spread the word and B the Change to create a world that is Hep B-free! Become a hep B advocate today by joining our Action Center

The 300 Million Reasons movement will continue to grow and expand over the coming months and years, as more materials and resources are developed and disseminated. We hope you will continue to stay tuned on our website for updates and that you will join us in taking steps toward shining a light upon, and eventually eliminating, hepatitis B! Join the movement today!

Creating a #HepBFree Future in Arizona

Layal Rabat, Empowerment and Advocacy Manager at Asian Pacific Community in Action (APCA), provides an inside look into APCA’s hepatitis B efforts in Arizona.

Asian Pacific Community in Action (APCA) was formed in 2002 to meet the health-related needs of Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (AA & NHPI) residing in Arizona. Our vision is to inspire diverse communities to seek healthier futures. Our mission is to provide services, advocacy and education for diverse communities to help create a healthier and more empowered population seeking good health. In addition to hepatitis B testing, education, and referrals, APCA’s programs include Oral Health Advocacy, Advocacy Training, Policy Work, , Messaging/Storytelling , the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, SNAP enrollment assistance, Civic Engagement, and Pop-up Health Fairs & Clinics.

Engagement Through Storytelling 

Over the years, we’ve prided ourselves on our creativity and thinking of ways to connect with communities through arts and innovative practices. This has led to the creation of  #HepBGirl and the HepBoo basketball fundraiser to support our hepatitis B efforts.

APCA’s most recent work has been centered around a mini-grant project generously funded by Hep B United – a national coalition to address and eliminate hepatitis B. The goals of the mini-grant were to help establish or contribute to hepatitis B prevention, education, linkage to care, and surveillance on a local level. APCA focused on education and empowerment by implementing the Hepatitis B Foundation’s (HBF)  #justB storytelling campaign into the community.

The project timeline was based on the recruitment of storytellers, conducting storytelling events, and conducting the analysis. The biggest lesson learned is that recruitment can take the most time out of all of the goals. We were aware of the stigma around talking about the infection and wanted to conduct our work in an ethical, sensitive way. To do this, we worked with a provider who helped by offering the opportunity for their patients to share their experiences. The patients could then choose whether to contact us or not. We also assured those that chose to speak that we would not publish any of the stories without their explicit approval and consent. To respect participant time and efforts and reduce the labor required of them for the event, APCA took great care to do as many of the preparations as possible, simplify the questions being asked, and conduct the events in a manner that respected their emotional labor and centered their explicit consent.

Hepatitis B In Arizona

Centered upon vulnerable populations such as older Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) adults who were born before certain vaccine policies, APCA’s hepatitis B work includes addressing policy issues, access to care, and direct services. Direct services around hepatitis B included screenings, vaccinations, and referrals to care and treatment. In the past, APCA tested 2,869 people and found that 6.7% had active hepatitis B infections. An additional 31.2% were not vaccinated.                                                                                     

Arizona’s hepatitis B story mirrors that of the United States overall. From 2006 – 2015, an average of 979 chronic hepatitis B and 128 acute hepatitis B cases were reported each year in Arizona, though there has been a decrease in the number of acute hepatitis B cases identified in recent years. 
The rate of new reports of acute hepatitis B was highest among persons aged 40-44 years. Chronic hepatitis B rates were highest among those 30-34 years. 
The average annual rate of hepatitis B infection among Asians/ Pacific Islanders was much higher than other racial/ethnic groups (1,2). 

Looking Towards the Future

The mini-grant opportunity will help to launch #HepBFreeArizona – a campaign aimed at eradicating hepatitis B in the state. We hope to continue working with those that shared their stories to help build our future hepatitis B program and get it to a level where we can provide a space for patients living with hepatitis B to lead the way. The same barriers that prevent community members from accessing care also hinder their efforts to get involved in advocating for the policy changes that will alleviate those barriers. We are always learning how to balance community member autonomy and valuing their labor with respect to the time and effort they contribute and not taking more than we are giving.

Thank you to Layal Rabat for serving as our guest blogger this week! If you would like more information from Layal or the Asian Pacific Community in Action, please visit their website or contact them here.

 

Layal Rabat is a third culture kid who has spent years practicing the fine art of parachuting into projects as the need for her skills arises. She takes an intersectional approach to her work and does not shy away from any cause where injustice is present and her contribution is welcomed and necessary. Her experience lies in project management, traditional and digital communications using all mediums from her own voice to videos to writing to tweeting, assembling audience-specific information for delivery in an infinite amount of ways. An infinitely curious researcher and an obsessive collector and assembler of information, she is often seen playing a supportive role in the background and amplifying the voices of those directly affected by injustice in her community. Fluent in English & Arabic, intermediate in Spanish & knows a tiny bit of Armenian. Current issues are immigrant rights and public health. With a BS in Psychology & an MA in Social Justice & Human Rights, she is currently working as the Empowerment & Advocacy Manager at the Asian Pacific Community in Action, and volunteering her time as IT/Web & Social Media Coordinator at Phoenix Allies for Community Health. She also volunteers with the Restoration Project, Phoenix, and serves as a board member with Sonoran Prevention Works. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music (& karaoke), reading, writing, photography, and traveling.

 

References

  1. 2016, Viral Hepatitis Epidemiologic Profile for Arizona
  2. 2016, Arizona Department of Health Services

 

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

Villagers-attend-an-education-class-to-learn-how-to-prevent-hepatitis-B.-300x169
Villagers in India attend an education class to learn how to prevent hepatitis B.

By Christine Kukka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Surender-presentation-300x200
Surender Kumar of the Rann India Foundation teaches villagers about hepatitis B prevention in India.

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

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

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

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

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

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"

Know Your Rights: If You Suffer Severe Liver Damage from Hepatitis B, You May Qualify for SSDI or SSI

 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The majority of people infected with hepatitis B lead healthy and normal lives. However, a small number of people may develop liver disease that will dramatically affect their quality of life and their ability to work on a short-term or long-term basis.

They may not be able to work for several weeks because of side effects from pegylated interferon treatment, or progressive liver damage could make it impossible to work and support themselves and their families even after treatment.

Below is information that can help you, your family members, or someone you advocate for apply for disability benefits to help them during when they can’t work due to hepatitis B-related health problems. The first step is to find out if you can meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) medical eligibility requirements to receive disability support. Continue reading "Know Your Rights: If You Suffer Severe Liver Damage from Hepatitis B, You May Qualify for SSDI or SSI"

“Hepatitis on the Hill” Advocates Fight for Hepatitis Prevention, And So Can You

Hepatitis on the Hill advocates, March 2016.
Hepatitis on the Hill advocates, March 2016.

On Tuesday, March 8, more than 120 advocates from across the U.S. fanned out on Capitol Hill to talk to their representatives about the importance of funding the Viral Hepatitis Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dozens of people laid their hearts on the line and told their stories about how they, their families, and friends have been touched by hepatitis.

In meetings with Congressional staff, and in some cases their senators, they shared stories about family members who discovered they had hepatitis B only when they were diagnosed with late-stage, inoperable liver cancer. Others talked about how lucky they were to have been immunized at birth, considering their mothers were infected. Courageous advocates described losing loved ones to hepatitis B and C spread through the heroin epidemic, and recalled indifferent healthcare workers who saw only addicts instead of human beings who had  lost their battle with both addiction and hepatitis.

Our goal was to get our representatives to allocate more funding for CDC’s hepatitis division, which is sorely needed. It’s CDC’s job to investigate disease outbreaks and educate the public and healthcare providers about infectious disease. For example, CDC publishes a variety of reports and promotional materials to educate people how to protect themselves against hepatitis B and C. The agency also funds a “hepatitis coordinator” in nearly every state whose job it is to help prevent hepatitis, investigate outbreaks, and collect data—a Herculean task for just one person. Continue reading "“Hepatitis on the Hill” Advocates Fight for Hepatitis Prevention, And So Can You"

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"

Buyer Beware: When Someone Claims to Have a Hepatitis B Cure, It’s a Counterfeit Drug

Image courtesy of africa, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of africa, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twenty years ago when I found out my daughter had chronic hepatitis B, I would’ve purchased any drug I could find to cure her.  I asked her doctor if she could join a pediatric clinical trial for lamivudine. I just wanted her cured as soon as possible. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

My daughter didn’t need treatment then, and she doesn’t need it today. Her doctor was wise enough not to try an antiviral with an unknown track record that was later found to cause high rates of drug resistance. It would have caused more harm than good.

When we want hard to believe in something—especially a medicine that is advertised to cure hepatitis B–we end up listening to our hearts and not our heads.

Many people touched by hepatitis B around the world don’t have an expert to be the voice of reason and wisdom when they hear about false, counterfeit, or untried treatments for hepatitis B. Sadly, there is a steady increase in false marketing claims on Facebook and other websites using testimonials and marketing ploys to sell a counterfeit hepatitis B cure to we who are vulnerable, frightened, and desperate for a quick cure.

We at the Hepatitis B Foundation know this all too well. The public can post on our Facebook and blog pages. Often, unscrupulous people pitching ineffective cures will try to post a personal claim endorsing some doctor’s or herbalist’s new cure. Here’s a recent, verbatim example of a post to our Facebook page:

“Just wanna express my moment of joy for (having) been cured from the deadly HEPATITIS B.  I have been infected with the Disease over three years and already lost hope (because) I have already tried so many ANTIVIRAL treatment…. one day while making more research online, I came across a testimony of a patients Dr … cured from GENITAL HERPES and I decided to give the said doctor a call….”

As you might expect, the writer claims to have been miraculously cured by the doctor using an antiviral drug called hepantivir, for example. But this drug has no scientific credentials. It has never been studied or tested or reported on in medical journals. But “experts” promise it will cure hepatitis B for $800.

We at the foundation remove these posts as soon as we discover them. These herbal supplements and counterfeit drugs can look very official, with medical-sounding names and packaged to appear like true pharmaceutical products.  The advertising often features a photo of a doctor to appeal to a local audience. But they’re fake, and some of these “products” can even make you sicker than before you started the alleged, miracle drug.

In 2013, a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that focused on Africa and South-East Asia suggested the counterfeit drug market in Africa was worth about $4 billion (USD).  A report found that in 2009, in Nigeria, 60 out of 225 (27 percent) antimalarial medications failed chemical analysis, and in Ghana, 14 out of 17 (82 percent) antimalarial drugs followed suit.

Their deceit is cruel and criminal, especially when it targets frightened people who may have no access to treatments or advice. In the U.S., drugs must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To win that approval, randomized, clinical trials that compare outcomes of treated patients to untreated patients (the control group), are needed to prove a drug actually does helps people. This is the gold standard of medical evidence.

That careful FDA review does not, however, apply to herbal supplements. One day, some of these supplements may indeed be found to have beneficial effects to protect the liver against hepatitis B after rigorous study and experiments. But that research hasn’t happened yet.

The U.S. National Institutes for Health has published a directory about what scientific research has discovered about common herbal supplements. Probably the most popular herbal supplement pitched as a liver remedy is milk thistle, and its extract silymarin. The NIH milk thistle report found, “Previous laboratory studies suggested that milk thistle may benefit the liver by protecting and promoting the growth of liver cells, fighting oxidation (a chemical process that can damage cells), and inhibiting inflammation. However, results from small clinical trials of milk thistle for liver diseases have been mixed, and two rigorously designed studies found no benefit.”

A true scientific evaluation is what we need to hear, even when we desperately want milk thistle or another supplement to be the cure. There is no magic bullet that is going to cure hepatitis B. It is a complex infection with no cure at this time. Experts are making great strides and hope to find a cure in the next few years, but now, this is the time to let our heads make healthcare decisions, instead of our vulnerable and hopeful hearts.

So be patient. Don’t fall for false promises, even when they’re accompanied by professional-looking photographs and emotional testimonials. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

More information about counterfeit medications:

Quality Matters: Battling the Epidemic of Illegal Online Drug Sellers and Counterfeit Medicines  Of the 35,000-50,000 active online drug sellers, 97 percent do not comply with U.S. laws and 50 percent of medicines sold online are fake or counterfeit, according to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global), an international non-profit headquartered in Washington, D.C. with operations in Europe and Asia.

These counterfeit medications are often manufactured in unsafe conditions; contain too little, too much or no active pharmaceutical ingredients; and, in many cases, have been found to contain dangerous substances like floor wax, rat poison, concrete, chalk, boric acid, road tar, paint, anti-freeze, and other toxins. This means that consumers worldwide are just a click away from buying products that may cause harm, treatment failure or even death. Read more…

Fight the Fakes Campaign:  Fight the Fakes is a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of fake medicines. The campaign gives a voice to those who have been personally impacted and shares the stories of those working to put a stop to this threat to public health. It seeks to build a global movement of organizations and individuals who will shine light on the negative impact that fake medicines have on people around the globe and to reduce the negative consequences on individuals worldwide.

As part of this effort, Fight the Fakes is collecting and sharing the stories of those who are impacted by fake medicines and are speaking up. The website also serves as a resource for organizations and individuals who are looking to support this effort by outlining opportunities for action and sharing what others are doing to fight fake medicines.