The federal Office of Minority Health (OMH) calls it one of the most serious but frequently neglected minority health disparities in the United States: Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (APIs) have the highest rates of chronic hepatitis B and liver cancer caused by hepatitis B of all racial and ethnic groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as two million people in this country are living with chronic hepatitis B, and over half of them are APIs.

The OMH and CDC aren’t just talking about this problem, they’re taking major steps to address it. The two agencies have teamed up to launch a national initiative aimed at closing the gap of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) disparities in API communities. In December 2008, the agencies published a report, based on the recommendations of a National Task Force on Hepatitis B Expert Panel convened by OMH, outlining an aggressive action agenda to reduce and eventually eliminate Asian Americans’ disproportionately high rates of this deadly disease.

The report, Goals and Strategies to Address Chronic Hepatitis B in Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Populations, calls for increasing HBV education, public awareness, screening, early detection, immunizations and research, as well as improving access to care and treatment. Specific strategies include, among others, improving HBV-related public health prevention infrastructure and providing culturally competent HBV training for health care professionals.

“The fight against hepatitis B and associated liver cancer is critical to protect the health of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who bear the brunt of the disease burden,” says John Ward, MD, director of the CDC’s division of viral hepatitis. “With a new strategic plan developed directly in partnership with communities most affected, we now have a clear roadmap to move forward in recognizing hepatitis B prevention as a national priority and protecting Asian Americans from the ravages of the disease.”

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