PALO ALTO, Calif.—Dr. Samuel So is a practicing surgeon and a professor in the department of surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine. For more than seven years, he has conducted what was at the beginning a one-man campaign to educate his colleagues and his community about hepatitis B—it’s startling impact on Asian America and how it can be defeated through changes in awareness and public policy.
So’s efforts center around the Jade Ribbon Campaign, modeled on the Red Ribbon for HIV with jade green to symbolize the Asian American population.
Asian-Americans are disproportionately diagnosed with hepatitis B and more likely than whites to die of hepatitis B-related illnesses, Jiayi Ho of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports.
According to Center for Disease Control (CDC), Asian-Americans die from hepatitis B-related illnesses, such as liver cancer and cirrhosis, at a rate seven times greater than whites. According to the Asian Liver Center, headed by Dr. So at Stanford University, chronic hepatitis B affects 0.3% of the U.S. population, though more than 50%, or about 700,000 people, of those with hepatitis B are Asian.
As Dr. So explained to Mina Kim, a reporter for KQED-FM’s Pacific Time earlier this month, people with HBV often have no symptoms and can live their whole lives
not knowing they have it. They also don’t know they are capable of passing it along to children and sexual partners.
Experts maintain that most Asians contract the virus through their mothers at birth or in childhood and that most Asians contract the virus overseas. Hepatitis B also can be spread through unprotected sex and shared needles, the Tribune reports. In Los Angeles County, Calif., 81% of women who gave birth in 2005 and had hepatitis B were Asian, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The Bay Area Herald Cancer Association, through funding from various sources, sponsors hepatitis B outreach efforts, and the city of San Francisco has launched an initiative that seeks to vaccinate all Asian residents against the virus. The California Assembly Health Committee in April approved a bill (AB 158) that would allocate $4 million toward hepatitis B prevention and treatment efforts in the Asian community.
HPV’s victims come from every sector of the Asian American community, from recent immigrants, the poor, the wealthy, educated and not.
Chi Mui, onetime aide to Calif. State Senator Richard Polanco and a well-known L.A. Chinatown activist became San Gabriel’s first Asian mayor in March 2006, but after just one short month in office, he was dead.
Mui, who immigrated from China in 1983, belonged to a disturbing health care demographic. He died of liver cancer at 53. Mui had hepatitis B, a disease that is dubbed a “silent killer” that disproportionately affects Asians.
“The message is quite simple” says So. “One, if you are Asian American, make sure you do a one-time blood test to see if you are already infected, because many Asian Americans became infected at birth or at a very early age.
“Secondly, if you are not protected, get the hepatitis B vaccine. It protects you for life.
“Third,” So adds, “if you happen to test positive, don’t despair.
There are effective treatments that prevent progression
to liver cancer.”
These three points are the core of So’s awareness project, now in its seventh year. But So’s battle against HBV isn’t over. He’s taking the campaign against hepatitis B global.
No effort to eradicate HBV will be successful with out the cooperation of
of China, says So. With that in mind, he is meeting with Chinese government officials and doctors this fall in Beijing.
“If you look at the 660,000 people who die of liver cancer every year, about
45% of them occurred in China alone,” explains So.
“It’s like in China one person every 60 to 90 seconds dies of liver cancer or liver failure caused by a totally preventable infection.”
Adds So: “Almost every Asian knows of someone who died from liver cancer. Hepatitis B and liver cancer is the greatest health care disparity.”
Important linkage on HBV issue:
- Know HBV: Physician’s Guide to Hepatitis B
- Timeline of HBV campaign
- Dr. Samuel So, “Eliminating the Voodoo from Hepatitis B”
- Stanford University’s Asian Liver Center
- Jade Ribbon Campaign, Unite to Fight Hepatitis B & Liver Cancer