Washington, DC - A project by UT Southwestern Medical Center students were recognized at a White House ceremony Thursday for their outstanding commitment to increasing hepatitis awareness as part of the annual National Hepatitis Testing Day observance.
The UT Southwestern student-led project, Dallas-Fort Worth Hepatitis B Free Project, promotes hepatitis B awareness among Asian and African immigrant populations in the North Texas region, including Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities across the metropolitan area.
“I am proud to see our students engaged in such an important effort to prevent hepatitis B and to make this information available to those that need it most. Hepatitis B continues to be a major cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer, so their program can save lives,” said Dr. J. Gregory Fitz, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Dean of UT Southwestern Medical School, and Professor of Internal Medicine, who holds the Nadine and Tom Craddick Distinguished Chair in Medical Science, and the Atticus James Gill, M.D. Chair in Medical Science.
UT Southwestern is one of 12 health care organizations being recognized during Thursday’s ceremonies. It is the first time the Department of Health and Human Services is presenting awards for hepatitis testing.
The Dallas-Fort Worth HBV Free Project provides culturally and linguistically appropriate hepatitis B virus (HBV) education, vaccination, and screening, and refers those with HBV to care with private practitioners or partner hospital systems. The project also maintains a database to collect screening data and trends, and conducts important HBV research.
“DFW Hep B Free has been a great opportunity to give back to the community in an area where help is much needed.,” said Tyler Smith, a fourth-year medical student who co-directs the program with fellow student Minh-da Le as part of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association at UT Southwestern.
Dr. Doan Dao, a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Center for Genetics of Host Defense led by Nobel Laureate Dr. Bruce Beutler, helped establish the program while a medical student.
UT Southwestern is one of 13 sites for the Hepatitis B Research Network, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is currently enrolling selected patients into a large study. UT Southwestern’s Clinical Center for Liver Diseases has been a part of more than 40 clinical trials in the last 20 years and has been part of major, national, ongoing research networks in hepatitis B, hepatitis C, drug-induced liver injury and acute liver failure.
“This great honor reflects the countless hours of hard work of many UTSW students over the past eight to 10 years, who believed in providing screening for hepatitis in our community to those who otherwise might not receive it,” said program mentor Dr. William M. Lee, Professor of Internal Medicine, who holds the Meredith Mosle Chair in Liver Disease in his honor. Dr. Lee has served site investigator for four National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases-sponsored Networks: the HALT-C Trial, the Acute Liver Failure Study Group, the Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network, and the Hepatitis B Research Network.
The 12 non-profit organizations being honored were selected based on criteria that included their success in reaching out to underserved populations and getting people tested and linked into care. Nominations for hepatitis testing recognition were solicited from CDC-funded state Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinators and from national partners engaged in implementing the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan. Other programs recognized included UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and in Oklahoma, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, California, Washington D.C, and Wyoming.
“Increasing testing for hepatitis B and C is a critical part of ensuring good health for all Americans,” said Dr. Karen B. DeSalvo, acting assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “With coordinated efforts by diverse partners like those being recognized today, we can reduce deaths and disparities in hepatitis B and C and improve the lives of people living with chronic viral hepatitis.”
Viral hepatitis is an underappreciated issue affecting our nation’s health. An estimated 850,000 Americans have hepatitis B and 3.5 million have hepatitis C. Fewer than half of those with chronic hepatitis B and C are aware of their status. When people remain unaware, they cannot take advantage of life-saving treatments and remain at risk for serious liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, as well as for transmitting the virus to others. Since 2012, deaths associated with hepatitis C outpaced deaths due to all 60 other infectious diseases that are required to be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, the number of hepatitis C-related deaths reached an all-time high of 19,659.