Written by Janice Lyu
On May 12, 2016, Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, along with many other local community members, gathered at the steps of New York City’s City Hall. More than 100 hepatitis advocates and press came together on this day to share their stories to commemorate the annual National Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19) and Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day (May 15). The month of May is also designated as National Hepatitis Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness and educate the public about the importance of getting tested for viral hepatitis.
Despite the growing efforts nationwide to combat the viral hepatitis epidemic, the burden of viral hepatitis is still high while the awareness is low. A lot more needs to be done to address this issue. Viral hepatitis disproportionately affects the Asian, African, and Latino community. It is the leading cause of liver failure and liver cancer. Recently, CDC reported that death rates for most cancers continue to decline with the exception of liver cancer.
In the United States, an estimated 800,000-1.4 million persons are chronically infected with hepatitis B and as many as 3.2 million persons may be chronically infected with hepatitis C. The burden is particularly high in New York City. It is estimated that 146,500 people live with hepatitis C and 100,000 people in NYC live with hepatitis B. Yet, because viral hepatitis can persist in the body for a long period of time without any signs of symptoms, it is estimated that two-thirds of those with hepatitis B and half of those hepatitis C do not know they are infected. These reports are truly alarming since there are preventive measures such as vaccines and medications to manage the condition. Hepatitis B can be prevented and treated, and hepatitis C can be cured.
Charles B. Wang Community Health Center along with other partners of the NYC Hep B Coalition and NYC Hep C Task Force came together at the steps of City Hall to remind healthcare leaders, providers, and the public about the importance of identifying and testing for viral hepatitis.
Hepatitis B disproportionately affects Asians. Dr. Perry Pong, Chief Medical Officer of Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, was invited to speak for the Asian American community and provide more awareness about hepatitis B at the City Hall press conference. Dr. Pong stressed that language and culture should not be a barrier to testing, access to care and treatment of this disease.
In the last 16 years, the Charles B. Wang community Health Center has screened more than 100,000 patients and identified more than 7,000 individuals with chronic hepatitis B infections. Our hepatitis B practice is one of the largest in the U.S. based in a community health center. The program includes awareness campaigns through ethnic media and community outreach, free community screening emphasizing linkage to care, culturally effective and accessible treatment for all patients regardless of ability to pay, training of primary care providers to diagnose and manage patients, and policy advocacy at local, state and national levels. This program would not be possible without our community partnerships and the support of the Robin Hood Foundation and Miranda Tang.
Hepatitis need not be a silent killer. There are vaccines available for those without immunity to protect their liver from the virus. If detected early, you can keep the disease under control with routine check-ups and medications. You should talk to your doctor today and get tested for hepatitis.
Janice Lyu is the hepatitis B program associate at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She has a M.S. in Biomedical Sciences from Tufts University School of Medicine. She cares about public health and healthcare issues.