Spoken word piece calls attention to hepatitis B

When then-students Jason Hill and Leon Scott performed a spoken word piece about health disparities and the roles of physicians during the 2004 Medical School class show, the audience was captivated by what became the highlight of the show.

Medical student Jason Hill and recent graduate Leon Scott perform their spoken word piece about hepatitis B prevention. Their performance is now part of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association’s national campaign.

“It was impossible not to be engulfed by what they were saying,” said Kathy Lee, now national Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) president and a fourth-year student at the School of Medicine. “It was such a fresh, creative way to get a message across.”

So when Lee was planning a training conference on preventing hepatitis B, she recruited Hill and Scott to create a spoken word performance piece. Spoken word is an innovative performing art that intertwines elements of rap and poetry.

Once again, they stole the show.

“After Hill and Scott performed, the room was silent, and everyone was in awe of what they had just seen,” she said. “I will never forget the intensity in the room.”

Their spoken word piece became part of APAMSA’s national campaign, “APAMSA fights to break the hepatitis B cycle.” The goal of this project is to use innovative methods to educate the public about the hepatitis B epidemic in the Asian-Pacific American population. Hepatitis B, a disease caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus, can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure and liver cancer.

Asian-Pacific Americans make up more than half of the 1.3-1.5 million known hepatitis B carriers in the United States, according to the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University. In some Pacific Rim countries, as many as 10 to 20 percent of the population are hepatitis B carriers.

Despite the availability of the hepatitis B vaccine, vaccination rates are low and hepatitis B remains a global health problem. Therefore, many children worldwide remain unvaccinated, and many adults unknowingly are chronic carriers. Although most hepatitis B carriers have no symptoms, they can still transmit the infection and develop liver cancer. Hepatitis B infection causes 80 percent of liver cancer cases worldwide.

Hepatitis B can be transmitted by blood transfusions, reusing needles and unprotected sex, but many Asian-Pacific Americans become infected when they are infants. Frequently, transmission of the hepatitis B virus occurs during birth when the virus is passed on from the mother to her child.

“Our goal is for physicians to think about hepatitis B when they see an Asian-Pacific American patient and ask the patient if he or she has been screened,” Lee says. “Simply asking that question can prevent families from spreading this terrible disease to future generations.”

Hill is an M.D./Ph.D. student at the School of Medicine, and Scott will begin residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in July.

For more information about the hepatitis B campaign, go to www.apamsa.org.