June 28 is World Hepatitis Day. In the US, an estimated 1.2 million Americans are diagnosed with Hepatitis B. However, not many people recognize how AAPIs are disproportionately affected, as 1 in 12 Asian Americans is a part of this epidemic.
An untreated hepatitis B infection can result in cirrhosis of the liver and even liver cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, liver cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among Asian Americans. However, as many as 2 in 3 infected AAPIs do not know they have it until they have been screened.
To raise community awareness of this important issue, AACS founded "Live Healthy - Hep Free" (LHHF). It is a school-based Hep B awareness and education program funded by the Hep B United mini-grant that AACS received in July 2016. Focused on virus prevention, it provides classroom presentations and interactive activities such as skit and Q&A sessions for high school students.
Although LHHF is open to youth of all ethnicities, it specifically targets schools with a high percentage of Asian American students due to the recognized need for outreach within the AAPI communities.
Shweta Bhatt, the coordinator of AACS' Health Care and Prevention Program, has been working with LHHF since its inception last year. She oversees and evaluates the program, effectively assisting Karen Jiobu, an AACS's board member who guides it.
Their team holds weekly meetings where members discuss program progress and future plans. Partnered with the OSU School of Medicine, it has been seeking additional opportunities to inform young Ohioans of the importance of Hepatitis prevention and screening.
In February, the team successfully delivered the LHHF program at Dublin Jerome High School. It recruited six medical students who served as volunteer instructors. Through classroom presentations they were able to reach over 127 high school students and their families.
Many participants found the presentations informative and enjoyable, according to Shweta.
In the National Hepatitis Awareness Month in May, the program also organized two free community Hep B screening events, which were the Asian Mini Health Fair and the Somali Health Fair. The team circulated flyers to encourage priority populations to get screened.
To celebrate the World Hepatitis Day on July 28, LHHF has now started planning for more. While more and more people have become aware of this disease, outreach is still a critical aspect in efficiently delivering health message.
"One of the key challenges is to identify and get buy-in from high schools for the program," said Shweta.
Currently, the team is working on analysis of collected data and applying for new funding opportunities for the coming year. Since the OSU School of Medicine has shown interest to collaborate with LHHF again, Shweta and her colleagues are looking forward to targeting at least two high schools in 2018. AACS is hoping that LHHF would keep up making a positive difference to the AAPI communities!