Many first- and second-generation Hmong immigrants to America fought their way through wars, jungles, starvation and thirst to get to their adopted land from Indochina.
Now some of them and their children are facing another serious threat.
Hepatitis B is highly prevalent among the Hmong people, including those living in Merced and throughout the Central Valley, but nothing is being done to combat the issue, a Merced group said.
Project Prevention an organization of young professionals, a community researcher and UC Merced students decided it was time to take action to address the problem, at least on a small scale, targeting the Hmong community in Merced.
It's estimated that one in five Hmong are infected with chronic Hepatitis B, said Yer Xiong, coordinator for Project Prevention. The disease, which can be transmitted like HIV mother-to-baby, infected blood, drugs and sex leads to liver cancer.
"It's a huge issue," said Xiong's sister, Linda Xiong, who's also part of Project Prevention.
That's why the group recently applied for a one-year $27,500 Legacy pilot grant from the B Free CEED: National Center of Excellence in the Elimination of Hepatitis B Disparities at the NYU School of Medicine.
The group will use the money for a pilot program, Project HmooB, that will help educate, screen and vaccinate the Hmong community in Merced, Linda Xiong said.
The group hopes the pilot program will lead to a community-driven coalition.
The group is in the process of gathering local data. Linda Xiong said they hope the outcome of the pilot program will shed light on the Hepatitis B issue.
An estimated 370 million people worldwide are infected with the disease. "A lot of time people don't even know it," she said.
"The disease is a silent killer," Yer Xiong said. "We want to see Hmong people live longer. We want to provide them the information so they can go get appropriate care."
The group also wants to provide the information in a culturally sensitive way, Yer Xiong said. If the project is successful, they might learn from it to address broader health issues.
The next disease they hope to help battle is diabetes, Linda Xiong said. "We hope that this grant will really put us on the map."
Stergios Roussos, a community researcher who also teaches at UC Merced, said he'll help the group improve the project over time. The project has the potential to have an impact in the community because it was developed and implemented by people who are part of that Hmong community-- the population the project is trying to reach he said.
They not only have a better understanding of the issue, but they also have forged relationships with the community, he added. "That increases their chances of making a difference," he said.
Johnny Moua is a UC Merced student who has been involved with Project Prevention since it started last year. He's now also taking part on the group's first project on Hepatitis B, and is getting other UC Merced students involved. "These are the issues that our community is facing," he said. "We are actually a group that's trying to make a difference in our community."
Even though the grant is relatively small, it gets the group's foot in the door for larger grants, Roussos said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.