Montefiore Einstein Starfish Program

More than 75 million people with HBV infection currently live on the African continent, and 10-12% of all people have the infection in West Africa. The West African community is vibrant and rapidly growing in the Bronx, and approximately 120,000 people from West Africa call the Bronx home.

The majority of infections in West Africa occur from mother to baby at the time of birth, but transmission and infection can easily be prevented through screening with a simple blood test and vaccination. Effective therapy for patients with active infection is available. Untreated infection commonly leads to severe liver disease and cancer. Treatment can prevent both the development of severe liver disease and cancer. Unfortunately, there are multiple barriers to care that include cultural and economic factors. Most West Africans in the Bronx are not being screened for the infection, vaccinated, and treated for this potentially deadly infection.

The Liver Disease Division at Montefiore Medical Center is currently conducting a novel outreach program for Hepatitis B awareness. In this program West African medical professionals work with faith based organizations to organize and deliver educational events at which time the importance of testing for hepatitis B in a culturally sensitive manner is presented. We have named our program the “Montefiore Starfish Program” based on a story in which a man was observed throwing starfish which had washed ashore back into the ocean so that they would not dry out and die. When confronted with the observation that there were too many for him to make a difference, “He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, "It makes a difference for this one." We started the Program with the understanding that the task is enormous. If we can prevent only one newborn from getting infected, however, we would have potentially saved the world for that child.

Events to date have been met with great enthusiasm, and the participants have uniformly expressed strong interest in being tested. Unfortunately, testing is expensive. However, we have obtained a marked reduction in cost from the Montefiore Medical Center Laboratory, and we plan to initiate testing on a limited basis. Your contribution will allow us to not only test more people but to show that the Program is effective in encouraging people to get tested. This information will be pivotal in obtaining additional funds from government and charitable organizations to conduct a widespread comprehensive program.