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Think About the Link: Hep C and cancer

MIKE McGEE | 5/26/2017, 4:15 p.m.
At the age of 9, Emelda Thein left Burma with her family and ended up in a Thai refugee camp ...
During the Think About The Link Campaign summit and screening held May 20, multicultural health professionals were educated on the importance of the HPV vaccination in preventing liver-related diseases and urged to encourage their patients to consider the treatment. Black patients are one of the most underserved population when it comes to prevention of HPV, hepatitis and liver cancer. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

At the age of 9, Emelda Thein left Burma with her family and ended up in a Thai refugee camp for 15 years before moving to the U.S. She shared her experience during the Think About the Link Campaign summit and screening event held May 20, where she described the substantial difference between the primitive conditions of such an environment versus the elements that make up health care in America.

“The doctor in the refugee camp, who we call ‘doctor,’ is the person who went through six months of medical training, so it is very different from here,” she explained.

The summit, held at the Crowne Plaza Dallas Market Center, brought together health care professionals of different backgrounds to raise awareness about the connection between human papillomavirus, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and liver cancer, since too few people understand the link between certain viruses and cancers, especially in the Black, Hispanic and Asian communities. The event also underscored the importance of the HPV vaccine in combating such preventable conditions.

Thein further explained that education in the camp was minimal; insurance was not needed; medicine could be purchased based on the unscientific decision of how someone else’s medication best relieved past symptoms rather than via prescription after consultation with a physician.

Thein, who is now a Lay Health Educator with the UNT Health Science Center, believes her mother died in the camp of hepatitis or a similar liver disorder, based upon the camp’s conditions and her mother’s symptoms. She mentioned that refugee healthcare was “at zero level and here it’s tenth level.” Still, the educator exposed an ironic conclusion about both systems: They potentially lack basic preventable disease care in certain populations.

“Here, you have to have health insurance. Not enough; you have to pick a plan. Not enough; you have to pick a doctor. Not enough; you have to know which doctors will accept insurance,” she said, noting that such a system could be very challenging to anyone, let alone a foreigner.

Her lesson as it related to the summit was that, even though an effective treatment is available in the form of the HPV vaccine to combat multiple types of cancer, sexually-transmitted diseases and even birth defects, many choose not to take advantage of the treatment because they are unaware of its benefits or are even in the dark about its existence.

Just as Thein helps the local Burmese community navigate the U.S. health care system and educates them on immunization, supporters of the summit would like to provide the same opportunity to others who are underserved, including African Americans.

“We have methods to prevent cancer by screening for HPV, screening for hepatitis C, vaccinating against HPV and hepatitis B, and we can treat hepatitis C, and in every case then you stop the march towards cancer,” said Carolyn Aldige, president and founder of Prevent Cancer Foundation.

“And yet, this vaccine is so underutilized and it really is all about the way it’s communicated,” she added.