On May 19, National Hepatitis Testing Day, a University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center student-led project to increase awareness about hepatitis and viral hepatitis infections was honored at a White House ceremony. The Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Hepatitis B Free Project, as it is called, provided free disease screenings to people in the local community.
Run by medical students from UT Southwestern (UTSW), the project screened at-risk groups for hepatitis B, vaccinated those in need, and helped to link people who tested positive to follow-up care. Screenings were conducted primarily in the Vietnamese, Chinese, and African immigrant communities of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A database was also created to collect screening information and trends, and for use in research into the hepatitis B virus.
“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,” Dr. J. Gregory Fitz, executive vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost, and dean of UT Southwestern Medical School, said in a news release.
“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-directed the program with fellow student Minh-da Le as part of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association at UTSW.
UT Southwestern is part of the Hepatitis B Research Network, a program funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to bring together clinical centers with expertise in caring for patients with chronic HBV infection. Its Clinical Center for Liver Diseases participated in over 40 studies in the past 20 years, as well as taking part in national research efforts into 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 Dr. William M. Lee, the project’s mentor and a professor of Internal Medicine.
At the White House ceremonies, 12 nonprofit organizations were honored for their work with underserved communities, getting people tested for hepatitis, and directing them to clinical care when necessary. Programs also recognized included the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and others 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.”