National African Immigrant and Refugee HIV and Hepatitis Awareness Day

Chari Cohen, Chioma Nnaji, Oni Richards-Waritay

This post is authored by Boatemaa Ntiri-Reid, Director, Hepatitis; Chari Cohen, Vice President of Public Health and Programs, Hepatitis B Foundation, Co-Founder/Director, Hep B United Philadelphia; Chioma Nnaji, Project Director, Multicultural AIDS Coalition; and Oni Richards-Waritay, Executive Director, African Family Health Organization.

Today, September 9, 2019, we commemorate the 5th annual National African Immigrant and Refugee HIV and Hepatitis Awareness (NAIRHHA) Day. In honor of NAIRHHA Day, NASTAD, Hepatitis B Foundation, Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin, Multicultural AIDS Coalition, and the African Family Health Organization have partnered to develop this blog to encourage health department viral hepatitis programs to collaborate with community partners to initiate, expand, or re-establish initiatives designed to support and serve African immigrant communities affected by viral hepatitis and HIV.  

NAIRHHA Day was launched in 2014 in an effort to nationally mobilize African immigrants, advocates, health care providers, researchers, political representatives and others to develop culturally and linguistically appropriate policies, practices and services that reduce stigma and support screening, prevention and retention in care. September was chosen because it is National African Immigrant Heritage Month (NAIHM), which aims to celebrate the great contributions of Americans of African immigrant heritage in the United States who have enriched the history of the nation. 

NAIRHHA Day provides a means for health departments, organizations, providers, communities, families, and individuals to:

  • Raise awareness about viral hepatitis and HIV/AIDS to eliminate stigma;
  • Learn about ways to protect against viral hepatitis, HIV, and other related conditions; 
  • Provide or receive screening and treatment, including viral hepatitis vaccination; and
  • Advocate for policies and practices that promote healthy African immigrant communities, families, and individuals.

Health departments have a critical role to play in expanding access to viral hepatitis prevention, screening, treatment and education for African immigrant communities. Health departments are engaged in comprehensive and multi-faceted approaches to eliminate their local and overall national hepatitis epidemic. These efforts include population-focused initiatives that speak to the unique needs of the populations most affected. There is growing data related to the disproportionate impact of hepatitis among African immigrants in the U.S. African immigrants living in the United States are disproportionately and increasingly affected by hepatitis B (HBV).  There is a high burden of HBV infection in Africa, with an estimated 50 million individuals living with the virus. Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that all immigrants living in the U.S. be screened for hepatitis B, African immigrants continue to face disproportionate barriers to testing, vaccination and care. Hepatitis C prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa ranges from 4-9% and hepatitis C is the second leading cause of end-stage liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma-related mortality in the region. However, very little data is collected about the prevalence and incidence of hepatitis C among African immigrants living in the US. Finally, African immigrants face countless barriers in accessing the U.S. healthcare system and obtaining screening and treatment for viral hepatitis. Increased efforts must be initiated to improve access to quality care that is culturally appropriate and designed to reduce hepatitis-related morbidity and mortality in this population.