Approximately 1.25 million Americans are chronically infected with Hepatitis B, a blood-borne, sexually transmitted virus that causes severe liver diseases like cancer and cirrhosis. Within this group, over 50% are Asian and Pacific Islanders (API), many of who live in California. However, such high numbers aren’t due to a lack of medical technology. “What is ironic is that a vaccine has been available for over twenty years!” muses Adele Feng, a UC Berkeley undergraduate and the Director of the campus-based Hep B Project, a volunteer organization founded in June 2009 to address the lack of Hepatitis B services in Alameda County, California. Working with other community partners, Feng’s group has been involved in organizing free hepatitis B screenings and vaccinations as well as spreading awareness amongst low-income Asian immigrant communities, one of the most at-risk populations in Alameda County.
The county lacks a central database with reliable information about the statuses of local Hepatitis B patients, resulting in an inefficient allocation of resources, outreach, and services. After two years in the community, the Hep B Project realized that they needed to expand beyond their motto of “Educate, Screen, Vaccinate” and start addressing this problem. The organization recently embarked on a project to integrate existing databases of non-sensitive patient data from local organizations and the Alameda County Public Health Department. With this more comprehensive dataset, they hope to create maps of hepatitis B prevalence and at-risk populations in the Bay Area using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. This effort was a recent winner at the Big Ideas contest conducted by CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) at UC Berkeley. The group’s proposal included building an easy-to-navigate, user-friendly interface that allows users to look at overlapping demographic factors such as ethnicity, age, and infection distribution on one map. Eventually, public health officials and community organizations should be able to identify and predict areas of greatest need for preventative and disease management services, as well as target at-risk and affected populations in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.