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Awareness of Hepatitis B a Leading Cause of Liver Cancer

Published: 2010-09-14

Synopsis: Campaign to raise awareness of the epidemic of chronic hepatitis B among Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage.

Main Digest

New National Campaign Launched to Raise Awareness of Hepatitis B, Leading Cause of Liver Cancer - U.S. Government and Non-Profit Organizations Join Forces to Fight Epidemic Affecting up to One Million Asian Americans.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health, the Hepatitis B Foundation and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) today launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the epidemic of chronic hepatitis B among Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. Chronic hepatitis B is a life-threatening liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The focus of the campaign is a new television public service announcement (PSA) that encourages Asian Americans to get tested for this preventable and treatable disease.

Chronic hepatitis B is known as a "silent killer" because it can slowly destroy the liver over time without causing noticeable symptoms. As the world's leading cause of liver cancer, HBV is second only to tobacco among known human carcinogens. Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent experience the greatest burden of the disease in the United States. Although Asian Americans comprise only 5 percent of the U.S. population, they represent more than half of the estimated 1.4 to 2 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B in this country.

"The disproportionate impact of chronic hepatitis B among Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent is one of the most serious - but frequently overlooked - racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States," said Dr. Garth N. Graham, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. "Because of their high hepatitis B rates, Asian Americans are nearly three times more likely to develop primary liver cancer than Americans of non-Asian descent."

Hepatitis B can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Yet alarmingly, as many as two-thirds of Asian Americans living with the disease do not know they are infected. The new PSA, noting that one in ten Asian Americans has hepatitis B, asks "Could you be one of them" Viewers are encouraged to visit, where information about the disease is available in several Asian languages.

The PSA will begin airing in September on network affiliates and community stations in metropolitan areas with significant Asian populations, including Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Importantly, the PSA has been translated into Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean for relevant in-language programming. The PSA is supported by funding from Gilead Sciences, a maker of hepatitis treatments.

"Our message is simple: Asian Americans need to get tested for hepatitis B," said Joan Block, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Hepatitis B Foundation. "People who test negative for HBV can be vaccinated against the disease, and effective treatments are available for those who test positive. But not knowing your status means that you are living with an increased risk of dying prematurely from liver cancer as well as unknowingly passing HBV on to your children and other loved ones. Too many people are suffering needlessly from this preventable and treatable disease."

The new campaign reflects increasing momentum to address chronic hepatitis B in the United States. In January 2010, the Institute of Medicine published a landmark report recommending new policy, legislative, community and medical efforts to confront and control the disease. Additionally, HBV screening campaigns have been launched in a number of U.S. cities, and proposed federal legislation calling for increased funding for hepatitis prevention and care is currently pending in Congress.

"Communities of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage in America are mobilizing and demanding that this neglected disease be taken seriously as a public health priority," said Jeffrey Caballero, Executive Director, AAPCHO. "Campaigns like this and similar efforts taking place across the country can play an important role in raising awareness, reducing stigma and increasing screening and treatment rates for hepatitis B - all of which are critical to ending this epidemic."

About the PSA

The PSA, entitled "B," was developed by 26-year-old photographer Bao Nguyen in collaboration with Boat People SOS, a national Vietnamese-American community-based organization. The PSA was the winner of the B Real Film Contest at the 2009 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It is intended to be used for information purposes to help the public better understand hepatitis B. The announcement is supported by funding from Gilead Sciences, a maker of hepatitis treatments. Participation of the Office of Minority Health (OMH), Hepatitis B Foundation and AAPCHO in this campaign and PSA does not imply the endorsement by HHS/OMH of any services or products.

For more information or to request a copy or images of the PSA please contact Lauren Graham at or (212) 584-5015.

About Hepatitis B

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the world's most common serious liver infection and is up to 100 times more infectious than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It is passed via the blood and other bodily fluids through sex, the use of contaminated syringes and needles, or the sharing of personal items such as razors or toothbrushes. The virus can also be passed from mother to child at birth. HBV slowly destroys the liver, and approximately one in four people chronically infected will die prematurely from serious complications such as cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver cancer or liver failure. Worldwide, 350 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B, with the greatest number of cases occurring in Asia and Africa. An effective vaccine to prevent HBV has been available for more than 20 years, and is considered the first anti-cancer vaccine since HBV is the primary cause of liver cancer throughout the world. However, universal infant immunization is not yet standard practice in many parts of Asia, and mother to child transmission is the primary cause of chronic HBV infection in many Asian countries. There are several effective therapies to manage and control chronic HBV, but up to 65 percent of Americans with the disease do not know they are infected.

About the Office of Minority Health -The mission of the Office of Minority Health (OMH) is to improve and protect the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will eliminate health disparities. OMH was established in 1986 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It advises the Secretary and the Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS) on public health program activities affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. OMH and its regional staff also work closely with State offices of minority and multicultural health. For more information, visit

About the Hepatitis B Foundation -The Hepatitis B Foundation is a national nonprofit organization solely dedicated to finding a cure and improving the quality of life for those affected with hepatitis B worldwide through research, education and patient advocacy. For more information, visit or call (215) 489-4900.

About the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations -The Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) is a national association representing 27 community health organizations dedicated to promoting advocacy, collaboration and leadership that improves the health status and access of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders in the United States. Since 1987, AAPCHO has advocated for policies and programs that improve the provision of health care services that are community driven, financially affordable, linguistically accessible, and culturally appropriate. For more information on AAPCHO and its Guiding Principles and Values, please visit

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