Passionate Hearts for Livers: Students take stand against Hepatitis B

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As of February 2011, The Hep B Project has provided screenings for 869 people.

In the summer of 2009, Kevin Hur, a UC Berkeley student noticed the lack of Hepatitis B services for low socioeconomic populations in the Oakland neighborhood. He gathered about 8 other students and started addressing this issue within the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) population in Alameda County. With the support of a community public health nurse, doctor, and clinic, they created The Hep B Project.

“The Hep B Project is a powerful example of what students with time and energy can do to directly address the needs in their community. We’re not just volunteering—we’re empowering,” says Director Adele Feng.

According to the Stanford Asian Liver Center, as many as 1 in every 10 Asian and Pacific Islander is chronically infected with Hepatitis B, a virus that targets the liver and is the leading cause of liver cancer and disease. Approximately 25% of these individuals will die of liver cancer or failure. Yet, a vaccine has been around for more than 2 decades now.

San Francisco Hep B Free was the first hepatitis B campaign in the nation, and Stanford Asian Liver Center followed to provide hepatitis B services in the South Bay. The Hep B Perinatal program focuses their efforts in the East Bay, but it specifically targets mothers and their newborns.

Furthermore, various HBV efforts had already been established on campus, but most of these groups focused on addressing only one aspect of comprehensive preventative care. Team HBV was raising awareness of hepatitis B on some college campuses, and San Francisco Hep B Collaborative (now Volunteer Health Interpreters Organization) was training students to serve as interpreters and health advocates in San Francisco.

Given these circumstances, the API communities of Alameda County needed someone to address this health disparity.

“I asked a public health nurse what Alameda County was doing about Hepatitis B since Alameda County is about 23% Asian and she said, ‘nothing,’” said founder Kevin Hur.

After much deliberation, Kevin realized that the only way to effectively address the issue was to tackle the problem holistically.

There it was— the idea to create a single organization where both education and resources could be united. The Hep B Project thus embraced the motto: “Educate, Screen, Vaccinate”.

With the help of Public Health Nurse Kathy Ahoy and Medical Director Dr. Wallin, the group opened two weekly clinics through its partnerships with Street Level Health Project and Asian Health Services. The clinics would provide community members with consistent and reliable access to the Project’s free Hepatitis B services.

As of February 2011, The Hep B Project has provided screenings for 869 people. About 329 of these needed vaccinations and 55 patients have tested positive for hepatitis B. Approximately 73% of registered patients have no health insurance.

So far, The Hep B Project has been able to provide services for a range of ethnic groups, including Mongolian, Chinese, Vietnamese as well as a smaller percentage of Korean, Cambodian, and Tibetan groups. Nurse Ahoy, the organization’s overseeing nurse, says that they plan to screen an additional 250 patients, leading to a total of 1000 patients, by the end of the year. The Project is also looking toward increasing their outreach from 3,100 individuals to 4,000.

The Hep B Project is powered through its 40 motivated student volunteers. Jason Cham, a dedicated volunteer, recounts one of his most heartfelt experiences:

“There was a Cantonese speaking couple that came to get tested for Hep B. I called them and asked them to come to the Wednesday clinic so that I could talk to them and help them sign up to see Dr. Wallin.

They were understandably concerned and asked questions like, “Is it serious?” During that Wednesday, Kathy also did some routine intake check-ups such as height and weight. In fact, their blood glucose levels were high, so they had the possibility of having diabetes too.

The couple came late and were luckily the last ones to see Dr. Wallin that afternoon. By then, the clinic had already closed, but Eric (volunteer) and I stayed after because they wanted someone to interpret for them. We went in to the doctor’s office with them and helped served as interpreters.

While waiting to see Dr. Wallin, I talked to them a lot and got to know them. I found out that they hadn’t seen a doctor since they were children back in China. Both were currently unemployed and uninsured. They’ve been in the U.S. for almost twenty years now and that Wednesday was the first time they had seen a doctor.

Through the efforts of the Hep B Project, this couple can get the help they need to improve their health before it precipitates to anything more serious.”

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