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Culturally Relevant Programs Needed to Help End Hep B in Black Communities, Sylvester Researchers Report

Hepatitis B disproportionately impacts U.S. Blacks, including African American and Haitian Blacks. Both communities suffer from widespread misinformation and access to care issues that might avert disease detection and prevention, according to a study published in Cancer Causes & Control by researchers at Sylvester.

The study’s findings point to a great need for culturally relevant, community-based interventions that involve and educate Black communities so that they better understand their risks for hepatitis B, get screened, and seek health care.

Patricia Jones, M.D.
Patricia Jones, M.D., MSCR

Hepatitis B, or HBV, is a leading cause of liver cancer, which is predicted to surpass breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer as the third leading cause of cancer-related death by 2030, according to the study’s lead author Patricia Jones, M.D., MSCR, assistant professor of medicine at the Miller School, who specializes in hepatology.

Having HBV increases the odds that a person will develop liver cancer by nearly 22-fold, according to Dr. Jones.

“Essentially, if you don’t know that you have HBV, you cannot seek treatment for it, and if you develop cancer, you will likely present when the cancer is advanced, and there are fewer options for treatment,” Dr. Jones said. “We want to interrupt that cycle by better understanding the perspectives of the populations most affected and creating programs that address those specific needs.”

Dr. Jones and colleagues reached out to Black communities in Miami and listened to what community members had to say about HBV. The researchers held focus groups in Haitian Creole or English to better understand what African American and Haitian Blacks knew, did not know, and believed about HBV.

“Often times, populations like these are overlooked. Some researchers say these populations are hard to engage in research. And that’s true. But there are really good reasons for this. We need to find out what those reasons are so that we can break down barriers to participation,” she said.

Of the 55 participants they studied, 27 were Haitian-born, and 27 were African American Blacks. Forty-two percent of the Haitian Blacks stated they knew about HBV before the study, compared with 78% of African American Blacks.

“Both groups expressed that fear, mistrust of the medical establishment, denial, and stigma might compel persons to avoid seeking care. Both groups attributed higher rates of late-stage (liver cancer) diagnosis in Blacks to inadequate financial resources and education,” the authors wrote.

“Those with HBV reported confusion regarding their infection and suboptimal communication with health care providers,” Dr. Jones said. “It’s critical that we, as physicians, ask how much patients understand, and that we assess their understanding.”

This study is a continuation of Sylvester’s longstanding commitment to community engagement and reducing health care disparities, according to Dr. Jones.