Health in Asia with Dr. Samuel So of the Stanford Asian Liver Center
Dr. Samuel So (MBBS, FACS) joined Asia Society Northern California on July 24 to discuss the state of health in Asia, with particular focus on hepatitis B and liver cancer. Hepatitis B (abbreviated as HBV) is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. While liver cancer is comparatively uncommon in the United States, it is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in Asia and the Western Pacific as of 2016, being endemic to Asia. According to Dr. So and his team, it is estimated that one in eight to one in twelve adults born in Asia suffer from chronic HBV.
Dr. So’s involvement in HBV awareness and research began in 1996. Dr. So remarked that when he came to the Bay Area, he was surprised at the number of patients unaware of the seriousness of HBV infection and the doctors who did not screen or did not know how to screen for the condition. This situation inspired Dr. So to found the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University to address the “disproportionately high prevalence of chronic HBV and liver cancer in Asians and Asian Americans”. He also founded the Jade Ribbon Campaign (also known as JOINJADE) in order to improve public awareness.
During the presentation, Dr. So discussed his work in China, which accounted for 54% of liver deaths and one third of HBV infections in 2010. Some of his findings were that discrimination against those infected with chronic HBV are prevalent in China and Asia at large. 69% of a survey of 10,352 people identified HBV as a serious cause of employment discrimination.
Dr. So remarked that the main obstacle to HBV treatment programs in China and Asia is a lack of awareness. For example, the prevailing belief in China is that HBV is contagious through casual contact (such as sharing meals or kissing). However, in reality it can only be transmitted via blood, sex, and birth. Furthermore, policymakers and donors in general are not aware of the seriousness or prevalence of the issue.
In order to improve efforts to treat the condition in China, Dr. So spoke at conferences with Chinese officials to advocate that HBV become a national priority in China, partnering with the China Foundation as well. Between 2006 and 2008, Dr. So and his team helped over 500,000 children in Qinghai province become vaccinated with a 99.4% 3-shot completion rate through the largest catch-up and education program in China. In 2012, an Asian Liver Center was established at Peking University to carry out projects to HBV transmission and improve public awareness about the condition.
Dr. So and his work inspire much hope for the future of fighting HBV in Asia. We at Asia Society Northern California are grateful for his talk, and congratulate him on the opening of the newest Asian Liver Center in Mongolia!