House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to highlight an effort to eradicate hepatitis B in San Francisco as a model community-based health care reform campaign during an event in the city Saturday, organizers said.
Hep B Free San Francisco aims to rid the city of hepatitis B, a contagious yet preventable liver disease. It is highly infectious and can lead to chronic illness, liver cancer or liver failure, even when the patient doesn’t have any symptoms.
The campaign is a comprehensive, community-based health campaign that involves public and private entities working to eliminate liver cancer in San Francisco’s Asian Pacific Islander community. The campaign aims to provide free and low-cost hepatitis B vaccinations and testing to that community.
Studies show approximately one in 10 Asian Pacific Islanders likely has undiagnosed hepatitis B in San Francisco, according to the Hep B Campaign, which said the city has the highest rate of liver cancer in the nation.
Ted Fang, a member of Hep B Free’s steering committee, said the organization started in April 2007 in response to the question, “How do you bring down costs and improve services?”
The campaign started in the community with a kick-off dinner, and once the community got behind it, residents went to their elected officials for help.
With political support, they were able to approach hospitals.
“We basically said, ‘We don’t have any money, but by screening for hepatitis B we’ll be preventing liver cancer and lowering health care costs,” Fang said. The group asked the hospitals to run in-house prevention programs as a way to lower their operating costs and help the community.
Then they approached pharmaceutical companies, saying they would do the work but they needed the companies to support them. Eventually they were able to change the federal hepatitis B prevention guidelines, which they are using to change insurance company policies, according to the campaign.
“They’ve been receptive because it reduces their costs too,” Fang said.
Now, the San Francisco Department of Public Health oversees and evaluates the effectiveness of Hep B Free.
One roadblock the campaign has not been able to overcome is a fear by community members that pre-existing conditions may lead to exclusions. Many members of the community do not take preventative measures because they don’t want to be tagged with pre-existing conditions and denied health insurance, Fang said.
Pelosi is expected to discuss this in the context of national health care reform at Saturday’s event, he added.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, who has chronic hepatitis B, will also speak.