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As Asian-American Hepatitis B Rates Soar, Study Seeks Answers

Scientists at the Center for Asian Health at Temple University hope to get insight into sky-rocketing Hepatitis B rates among Asian Americans, fueled by a new three-year $1.8 million grant from the Washington, D.C.-based, Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

“The major concern is there are a lot of Hep B patients in the Asian-American community not going for regular monitoring, follow up and treatment, “ said Center director Grace Ma in an interview with NBC News. “Our goal is to make sure patients who have been diagnosed don’t fall through the cracks, or develop cirrhosis and liver cancer.”

A recent report showed that even though Asian Americans comprise 5 percent of the population, they account for over 50 percent of all Hepatitis B cases in the country. Ma says only 40 percent of those diagnosed follow up with screenings and ultrasound appointments, with reasons ranging from being uninsured to poor language access to patients not recognizing the more subtle symptoms associated with Hep B.

“If we can enlarge the number (who go to the doctor) by an additional 30-40 percent, I think that will save a lot of lives and save the health care system a lot of money," said Ma.

She hopes to help patients by assigning them “navigators” to help them through the process. The study will also make use of common technology like text messaging to help people communicate with the health care system.

“If people have barriers now, we’re going to overcome those barriers for them,” Ma said.

The study will target 600 existing Hep B patients in Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities at six health care clinics in New York and Philadelphia.

Dr. Grace Ma will lead a new Hepatitis B study to try and break down Asian-American patients’ reluctance to get follow up care.
Dr. Grace Ma (far right) will lead a new Hepatitis B study to try and break down Asian-American patients’ reluctance to get follow up care. Ryan S. Brandenberg / Ryan S. Brandenberg

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