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"One of the greatest health disparities between Asian Americans and their counterparts in the United States is liver cancer," Lin says. "This disparity is largely due to the alarmingly high prevalence of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection among Asian Americans."

As a member of the inaugural class of Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows in 2007-8, Steven Lin—then a student at Stanford University School of Medicine—created a trailblazing and comprehensive Hepatitis B initiative at the Pacific Free Clinic in East San Jose in partnership with the Asian Liver Center at Stanford.

Lin’s motivation for addressing Hepatitis B and its corollary, liver cancer—which disproportionately affects Asian-American immigrants living in the U.S.—is deeply personal: “As a first-generation Taiwanese immigrant with loved ones who are infected with chronic hepatitis B virus and dying from liver cancer, I am defiant against this silent epidemic,” he says.

In its first year, the Hep B Free Clinic served more than 500 uninsured and low-income patients—and has gone on to serve thousands more. It has attracted national attention, including inclusion in the National Task Force on Hepatitis B and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Viral Hepatitis Action Plan.

And as Lin—now a Family Medicine Resident at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and Educators-4-Care Associate Faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine—says proudly, “Today, nearly 5 years since its inception as a Schweitzer project, the student-run Hep B Free Clinic is still welcoming all who walk through its doors.”

Why did you decide to develop your particular Schweitzer project?

One of the greatest health disparities between Asian Americans and their counterparts in the United States is liver cancer. This disparity is largely due to the alarmingly high prevalence of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection among Asian Americans.

Recent studies show that approximately 1 in 10 foreign-born Asian Americans living in the United States is chronically infected with HBV, and as many as two-thirds of them are unaware that they are infected. This carries life-threatening implications for all Asian Americans because undetected HBV infection is associated with a 25% risk of death.

Sadly, the Asian American community is frequently overlooked by healthcare providers and public health officials, leaving Asian Americans to bear a disproportionate burden of disease and premature death. As a first generation Taiwanese immigrant with loved ones who are infected with HBV and dying from liver cancer, I am defiant against this silent epidemic. That is why we decided to build a free clinic in the heart of San Jose, one of the largest Asian American communities in the United States, in order to provide life-saving screening and vaccinations for low-income and underserved immigrant families.

What was the lasting impact of your project on the community it served?

Since opening in 2007, the Hep B Free Clinic has served thousands of uninsured immigrants with no access to care, and identified hundreds of individuals with chronic hepatitis B or liver cancer. We have provided free screening and vaccinations to all, and referred many with advanced disease for life-saving antiviral treatment and even pro bono surgery.

The Hep B Free Clinic has attracted national media attention, and was invited to become a member of the National Task Force on Hepatitis B. In 2008, the clinic was awarded the prestigious American Academy of Family Physicians’ Community Outreach Award.

More recently, the work of the clinic and its community partners were highlighted at the national level with the publication of the Institute of Medicine’s Report on Hepatitis and Liver Cancer in 2010, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Viral Hepatitis Action Plan in 2011.

Today, nearly 5 years since its inception as a Schweitzer project, the student-run Hep B Free Clinic is still welcoming all who walk through its doors.

What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

I believe that the most pressing issue of our time is how deep inequities based on social class, race, ethnicity, gender, and global relations are accelerating unprecedented inequalities in health and access to care.

Sadly, we live in a world where the gap between rich and poor in the richest countries, and particularly the United States, is getting bigger and bigger, and bringing with it an exponential gap in those inequalities.

This must be urgently addressed at every level—local, state, national, and international—by a new generation of dedicated, optimistic primary care providers who will bring to light the roots of diseases and eliminate health care injustice.

What was the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?

How much I learned about myself! As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

What does being a Schweitzer Fellow for Life mean to you?

I am filled with a profound humility and vicarious energy to be part of such a courageous family of innovative change agents, social entrepreneurs, and compassionate thinkers and doers. Being a Schweitzer Fellow for Life is an honor and responsibility that will power my future endeavors to make the world a better place.

Steven Lin is a Bay Area Schweitzer Fellow for Life. Click here to read more about The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF)’s Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Lin it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects that improve the health and well-being of vulnerable people and communities. To make a gift to support the Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows Program, click here.

Each week, Beyond Boulders delivers a new installment of “Five Questions for a Fellow” – an interview series with Schweitzer Fellows across the country and in Gabon, Africa who are leading the movement to eliminate health disparities. For an archive of previous “Five Questions for a Fellow” interviews, click here.

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