Almost 300 million people worldwide live with chronic hepatitis B, but most of their stories remain untold. Often this is due to the negative stigma surrounding the virus, fear of discrimination, lack of community awareness or understanding of the disease and lack of support for those who wish to speak out publicly about hepatitis B.
No one knows hepatitis B better than the people living with the virus. Elevating the voice of people who live with hepatitis B is so important to bring awareness to hepatitis, help fight discrimination, and keeping up the momentum to find a cure for hepatitis B. Storytelling is an important to way to talk about an individual’s journeys with hepatitis B.
Since 2017, the Hepatitis B Foundation has partnered with StoryCenter to host six #justB digital storytelling workshops for over 40 participants from more than 20 U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The #justB campaign empowers people with lived experience to share their stories with the goals of increasing awareness and advocacy around hepatitis B, decreasing stigma and discrimination, and promoting testing, vaccination and linkage to care and treatment.
The latest #justB workshop was held in Berkeley, Calif., from March 18-20, 2022. It brought together five highly motivated adults living with hepatitis B who wanted to learn how to share their stories to educate communities and inspire action.
We will be highlighting these patient advocates and their stories over the next few months. Here are overviews of Adama and Chelle’s stories:
Adama, who was born in West Africa and immigrated to the U.S. decades ago, recalls when he tested positive for hepatitis B and how he soon realized that the illness his mother suffered from must have also been hepatitis B. “As I began to learn about the virus, I realized, ‘Oh, I think that’s what killed my mom.” Having lost his mother to the disease, Adama knows the importance of testing, early detection and monitoring for those who are living with hepatitis B. “I take treatment, I learned how to take care of myself… But what about the people around me, in my community, who won’t even get tested? Everyone talks about HIV, about how to protect ourselves, but this hepatitis virus is too much ignored.”
Chelle, a Utah resident, speaks candidly in her story about the stigma she encountered after being diagnosed with hepatitis B in the 1980s. “I felt so isolated. I couldn’t even talk to my family… Sometimes I thought about all the stomach problems I had complained of as a kid. I had been adopted from the Philippines in the 1970s. I was tested for this and that, but not for hepatitis B. Testing for the virus wasn’t widespread at that time. I was called a hypochondriac when the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.” Chelle is grateful that things have improved since then and that she was able to pursue a career in the medical field. But her experience still motivates her to continue speaking out and fighting against hepatitis B related stigma that persists around the world.
How to Elevate Your Voice
Are you interested in sharing your journey with hepatitis B? The Hepatitis B Foundation has the B the Voice Story Bank which provides an online platform for people living with hepatitis B, their families, community health workers and health care providers to share their firsthand knowledge and experiences with a global audience. You can submit your stories using an online form, along with any photos and personal details you wish to share. Submissions are confidential and can be made without disclosing a person’s full identity.
We encourage you to share stories about your diagnosis, living with hepatitis B, access to care and treatment, stigma and discrimination, education and advocacy, support and caregiving, services and programs and other related topics to not only help raise awareness for hepatitis B, eliminate stigma and discrimination, but to also inspire others to be brave in their diagnosis.
How Can Providers Elevate Individual’s Voices?
It is important for providers to also help elevate peoples’ who are living with hepatitis B voices. Healthcare institutions, organizations, and departments must develop relationships with people living with hepatitis B to establish trust and listen to what they want to see be done in the hepatitis B world. Their opinions are critical to develop effective programming around hepatitis B education, vaccination, testing, and eventually elimination.