Church Intervention Highly Effective in Promoting Hepatitis B Screening

Thomas R. Collins

October 06, 2010

October 7, 2010 (Miami, Florida) — An intervention program targeting Korean Americans through their churches has been highly successful in promoting screening for hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, researchers announced here at the Third AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities. An estimated 73% to 80% of Korean Americans attend church regularly.

In the study, one group, consisting of attendees of 2 Korean American churches, received intensive targeted intervention. They had a screening rate of 96% at 12-month follow-up. This group received education specifically on HBV, culturally tailored material on HBV, and help with screening, vaccine referral, and navigation of the healthcare system.

A control group, consisting of attendees of 2 other Korean American churches, received only general healthcare information that included information on cancer and HBV. These individuals had a screening rate of 2.9% after 12 months, researchers found.

A randomized controlled trial is under way to further assess the program.

Grace Ma, PhD, professor of public health at Temple University and director of the Center for Asian Health at Temple, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said it is all about "building the trust," which was done effectively by church leaders.

"They're actually out front doing the recruitment, giving out the messages at their church sites, which I think does make a big difference," Dr. Ma said.

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing segment of the American population, with Korean Americans making up 10% of that Asian American segment, Dr. Ma said.

Among American ethnic minority groups, Korean Americans are ranked the lowest in having medical insurance, she said.

Furthermore, Korean Americans have been reported to have the second-highest liver cancer incidence rate among ethnic groups in the United States, at 23.29 out of 100,000.

But 46% to 68% of Korean adults report never having been screened for HBV, studies have found.

Barriers range from low socioeconomic status, to cultural hurdles, to a lack of knowledge about health issues.

A sustained effort is crucial to getting results, Dr. Ma emphasized.

"Long-term efforts and commitment are very essential," she said.

Levi Garraway, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, who moderated the session, said the program was impressive but wondered whether it could be done elsewhere as well.

"The study shows that a detailed intervention like that can be effective. That was a remarkable turnaround in terms of screening in a population you clearly want to screen," he told Medscape Medical News. "Can it be replicated? It probably depends from context to context. My general sense is that for faith-based communities where there's an appropriate level of organization, you may not be able to reach 96%, but you may be able to have significant efficacy."

The study received no commercial financial support. Dr. Ma and Dr. Garraway have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Third AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities (SCHD): Abstract PR-7. Presented October 1, 2010.

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