Asian American volunteers trying to help underserved Free screenings among offerings at health fair
Special for The Arizona Republic
Jan. 23, 2006

Rebecca I. Allen

NORTH PHOENIX - Asian Pacific Community in Action, a grass-roots organization, is fighting health disparities among the Valley's Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.

The group has partnered with the Arizona Department of Health Services and medical professionals to break through language and cultural barriers and get vital health care to the communities.

"Our organization has a list of medical providers who speak different languages," said Kelly Hsu, president and founder of the advocacy group. "But if the people don't know us, we can't get the information to them."

The group earlier this month hosted a health fair at the Mountain Park Health Center East Phoenix, adjacent to the Chinese Cultural Center.

More than 100 volunteers speaking 20 languages and dialects helped the 300-plus attendees navigate numerous information booths and several free screenings, including blood sugar, cholesterol, osteoporosis and blood pressure. The event also featured seminars on health topics relevant to the Asian-American communities, including hepatitis B, cardiovascular health, breast and cervical cancers, men's health, domestic violence and tobacco use.

"Nearly all breast cancer can be successfully treated if detected early," Wendy Tee, a clinical nurse specialist at Banner Desert Medical Center, told a group of men and women attending a seminar. Like all the event's speakers, Tee was accompanied by interpreters. The health fair volunteers all had medical backgrounds and sported bright orange shirts emblazoned with "Be Tobacco Free" in five languages.

"In China, 65 percent of men smoke," Hsu said. "There is a direct link . . . . If families smoke, most likely the children will smoke."

Ilin Chuang, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, volunteered as an interpreter. She speaks English, Mandarin and Taiwanese. Chuang serves on a hepatitis B task force. The liver infection can progress to chronic hepatitis B, a lifetime condition that can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.

The Asian-American community has a higher infection rate than any other ethnic group in the United States. Chuang estimates that Asian-Americans account for more than half of the nation's 1.25 million current cases of chronic hepatitis B.

"We want people to understand how to prevent and treat infection," Chuang said. Rose Conner, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said partnering with APCA helps get the word out to communities that the department has trouble reaching because of the language and cultural barriers.

"If they speak to someone in their own language, they may feel they can trust the health care providers," Conner said.

She then indicated a long line of Asian-Americans waiting to have their blood sugar tested. "Without the language, these people wouldn't have come."

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