For the third year in a row, the Asian Heritage Street Celebration, the largest gathering of Asians in America and the climax to Asian Pacific Heritage Month in San Francisco, featured free on-site hepatitis B screenings and education to celebration-goers.
Volunteers in bright T-shirts fanned out among the crowd, balloons led the way to the screening room, public officials called out to the crowd, and media from both the APA community and the mainstream were on hand to report on the effort.
This year, lead sponsor California Pacific Medical Center was joined by Brown & Toland Medical Group, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Gilead Sciences, with additional support from Novartis Pharmaceutical, to screen nearly 300 people for the disease, which disproportionately affects the APIA community and is responsible for 80 percent of liver cancer. One in 10 APIs is believed to be carrying the disease.
An extension of the S.F. Hep B Free campaign, the partners employed a strategy of public education, screening, vaccination and treatment.
As part of a month-long effort of media outreach, the May 17 screening was featured in eight newspaper stories and 14 broadcast stories in the mainstream media, including two articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and a three-part series on the local ABC television affiliate. Newspaper articles appeared in a majority of Asian newspapers and television outlets as well.
“The adults knew about it and wanted to get tested,” said Ellen Lee of Brown & Toland. “The younger people knew about it too, but didn’t take it quite as seriously. Some had this attitude like, ‘Well, if I have it and I’ve lived this long, why bother getting tested now?’ So that’s something we’re working to address.”
State Assemblyman Mark Leno, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, state Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and San Francisco Supervisor Carmen Chu were among the elected officials who turned out and lent their support. Ma is honorary chairperson of the S.F. Hep B Free campaign.
“It’s very important to do everything we can to raise awareness in the API community on this issue,” said Chu, who got publicly tested at the event. “I personally will do whatever I can to encourage people to get tested.”
According to Lee, seniors also seemed to be in the know about hep B, but were often unsure whether they had ever been tested or vaccinated.
“That’s pretty common,” said Jackson Wong, program manager for California Pacific Medical Center’s Hepatitis B Free Screening Project. “Most of us don’t know what we were vaccinated for as children. Or our doctor gives us a hepatitis shot, and we don’t hear ‘A’ or ‘B.’ We just hear ‘hepatitis’ and assume we’re protected.”
“Part of what we’re trying to teach people is how to be medical consumers,” said Janet Zola, health educator with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “You need to help your doctor help you. Ask questions. Ask to be tested for hep B. Ask for your results. Ask to be vaccinated. Be a partner with your doctor.”
Wong reports that a handful of minors had to be turned away because staff were unable to obtain parental consent. Wong says this awareness among minors means the campaign is beginning to reach people who tend to be apathetic about health issues.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he added.
Drug companies are also stepping up efforts to educate the public. Bristol-Myers Squibb recently launched an in-house department known as B-Pals.
“We want to support people combating serious diseases such as chronic hepatitis B and are proud to support the San Francisco Hep B Free campaign,” said Sonia Choi, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s director of business communications.
All those tested were provided with information regarding vaccination, as well as treatment information emphasizing the effectiveness and convenience of available medications.
Those who tested positive were encouraged to discuss treatment options with their doctors. Those without insurance were directed to assistance through a linked network of health care providers.
That link to care is a unique and crucial element of the partners’ strategy, said Gilead Sciences’ Carol Brosgart, MD.
“In the past, screenings were offered at health fairs. But, if someone tested positive, it was up to them to figure out what to do next. We’re laying it all out for them. If you don’t have it, get vaccinated. If you do have it, talk to a doctor and find out whether or not you need treatment.”
“I was very impressed with both the turnout (on May 17) and how well organized the operation was,” Assessor-Recorder Ting added. “I believe we’re really making some headway.”