PIMS - Grantee Success Stories
Project: Hepatitis B & HIV Prevention and Education Project
Organization: Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO)
Location: Portland, Oregon
Project Began: September 2007
Taking Care of the Health of Our Community
The health challenges that many refugees and immigrants take with them when leaving their country of origin are not always easy to see right away. Lack of proper nutrition, lack of health care, and violations of personal safety are just a few of the hardships they have endured.
Hepatitis B and HIV are initially invisible, yet can become very hazardous over the long term.
Hepatitis B affects the liver, "the silent organ," slowly damaging it over time without always producing symptoms at first, yet sometimes leading to cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. HIV has a "honeymoon period" which can last an average of five to 10 years during which the carrier displays no symptoms.
Immigrants and refugees coming from Africa and Asia have about a one in 10 chance of being chronic hepatitis B carriers. Likewise, HIV rates in Africa are among the highest in the world, and they are rising quickly in many parts of Asia.
IRCO is seeking to address these issues head on. Through the Hepatitis B & HIV Prevention and Education Project (HHPEP), funded through the Office of Minority Health, IRCO is seeking to decrease the prevalence of hepatitis B and HIV in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) and African Refugee and Immigrant (ARI) communities in Portland, Oregon.
Currently in the second year of a three-year grant, this project works toward this goal by increasing awareness and knowledge of hepatitis B and HIV and by increasing access to screening and vaccination services within these communities. IRCO is also working to decrease the cultural and linguistic barriers to care that they face by training health care interpreters and providers.
In order to increase awareness and knowledge of hepatitis B and HIV, the project provides workshops for at least 200 people per year. These workshops are conducted in the participant's primary languages by bilingual and bicultural health educators and include information on how the diseases are transmitted, how they can be prevented, and how they affect their communities.
Tri Tran, one of the project's health educators at IRCO's Asian Family Center, says that one the biggest accomplishments is that project participants have significantly increased their knowledge of these diseases. The differences between workshop pre- and post-workshop test scores have consistently showed drastic increases, often nearly doubling.
Tri says that workshop participants shared with him that the information and education they receive have changed the way they view people with HIV: "When they know more about HIV and the stigma people with HIV live with, they show more compassion."
IRCO has seen an increased interest in getting tested and vaccinated for hepatitis B. Working with the Multnomah County's Disease Control clinic, IRCO helped vaccinate 163 people for hepatitis B and screen 104 people for hepatitis B in 2008. Of those screened, approximately 10% tested positive.
Vaccination and screening efforts will be ongoing in 2009. Many community members have told us that they would not have been able to get tested and vaccinated for hepatitis B were it not for these clinics which are located in familiar areas and provide free services and interpreters.
One measure of success is that participants themselves are spreading the word. When a health educator ran into a former participant at a community event recently she told her, "Thank you. The program educated me about the disease. I've learned a lot especially how to prevent it. I've told my family and friends about the program. They will call you to get more information regarding screening and vaccination for hepatitis B."
Abdiasis Mohamed, the health educator at IRCO's Africa House, says: "It is very important for the community to learn about these diseases which affect many. For some participants, this information is life-changing because they've never had this much in-depth information or access to resources."
After a World AIDS Day event held in December 2008, at which providers spoke about HIV testing and treatment to a group of 48 individuals at Africa House, one man came up to Abdiasis and told him that he realized he needed to change his lifestyle. Abdiasis spoke to the man about getting tested telling him: "Either way, it is better to get tested. If you are positive, you can take care of yourself and your partners and get treatment so that you can lead a healthy life. If you are negative, you know you need to keep taking care of yourself and protecting yourself and others."
Abdiasis says that he has seen a shift in the community's awareness since the program began a year and a half ago. "In our first year, we focused more on getting the basic knowledge across and getting people vaccinated for hepatitis B. In our second year, we are seeing more of a discussion among the community and community leaders about this issue and wanting to prioritize sharing this information and helping their communities."
During a discussion after the AIDS Day event, community members and leaders discussed various ways to help curb the spread of HIV in the community. Participants mentioned things like getting tested, being open about their status, educating other community members, and supporting people who are HIV positive. One community leader stated how important it is that all of their community members know about HIV and how it is affecting the African community in Portland: "We have to take care of the health of our community."
In all of these efforts, the project seeks to expand its current education program to reach more people in this growing community, to advocate for and assist those living with hepatitis B and HIV, and to sustain trainings for providers and interpreters on how to best assist patients. Improving the health of the community is the project's foremost mission, and this aim permeates everything it does. This is IRCO's goal as we continue to train community members, leaders, providers, and interpreters, and as we build partnerships with communities and organizations fighting to eradicate hepatitis B and HIV.
Story Prepared By:
Teresa Lavagnino, HHPEP Program Coordinator/Health Educator
Abdiasis Mohamed, HHPEP Africa House Health Educator
Tri Tran, HHPEP Asian Family Center Health Educator
For More Information Contact:
Teresa Lavagnino at (503) 235-9396 x 126 or TeresaL@mail.irco.org