WHO CC for Viral Hepatitis

21 Jan 2020

Working together to fight hepatitis B: PhD student joins World Hepatitis Alliance Board

A desire and passion to help people around the world living with hepatitis B to more easily access treatment and care has led Lien Tran, a University of Melbourne PhD student working with the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis at the Doherty Institute, to being appointed to the World Hepatitis Alliance Board (WHA) representing the Western Pacific Region.

As well as working in the sector, Lien lives with hepatitis B - so is compelled to work together with the affected community to make an impact in her new role as WHA Board member.

“I have thought of hepatitis B as a ‘family heritage’ – but that was broken at my generation as my two young daughters are free from the virus,” she said.

“I’m not seeing myself in the position of showing the way to other people living with hepatitis, it’s more like going together to fight discrimination.

“It’s all part of my learning curve as well, I’m better at seeing myself living with hepatitis B, feeling less guilty and stigmatised, but I’m still on that journey.”

The WHA is a not-for-profit international non-governmental organisation whose membership is composed of organisations working in the field of viral hepatitis.

Its mission it to harness the power of people living with viral hepatitis to achieve its elimination by working with governments, national members and other key partners to raise awareness, influence policy change and drive action to find the millions of people unaware of their condition.

Lien’s first contact with the WHA was in 2017 when a project she led while working at Hepatitis Victoria was accepted for presentation at the World Hepatitis Summit in Brazil.

While working at Hepatitis Victoria, she together with other mums, dads and children living with hepatitis B conceptualised and produced a children’s book, Little Hep Hero, to help parents living with hepatitis B explain it to their children. The book available of the Hepatitis Victoria website, was later adapted into a short animation and translated into Chinese and Vietnamese.

“The WHA Summit was an opportunity to meet board members and others in the organisation. Then in late 2019, I spoke with President-Elect Dr Su Wang about their call for nomination and the possibility of becoming a board member,” Lien explained.

“Being within the team provides me with more understanding about the region’s progress from a professional perspective and with support from WHA member organisations, I will be honoured to provide feedback timely and on a regular basis to the activities implemented in the region. This is about and to make sure ‘Nothing About Us Without Us!’”

The appointment began on 1 January 2020 with the first board meeting occurring in London in February.

Lien has just begun her PhD looking at how to improve engagement in care for people living with hepatitis, particularly people living with hepatitis B in primary care.

“Most people living with hepatitis B in Victoria are from migrant or refugee backgrounds, and their understanding of the health system is not easy. The majority of care is in hospitals, it’s expensive, time consuming and a burden on specialist care. I want to make sure it’s easier for everyone to get care,” she said.

“Prior to coming to the Doherty Institute, I worked for the Victorian HIV and Hepatitis Integrated Training and Learning (VHHITAL) program, training GPs so they can prescribe medicines to treat people living with HIV, hepatitis and STIs.

“But the certified GP prescribers don’t have enough patients, and hospital waiting times are long. The waiting time from referral from a GP to some hospitals in Victoria can be over 400 days, it’s just not right so I’m interested in looking into it.”

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Professor Benjamin Cowie, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis at the Doherty Institute said Lien is an emerging leader in the response to chronic hepatitis B.

“Lien is a highly committed, sincere advocate with great integrity and interpersonal skills and will be a fantastic representative for our region and an exceptional addition to the WHA Board,” Professor Cowie said.

The innovative and groundbreaking work scientists around the world are doing to cure viral hepatitis is what Lien refers to as ‘clinical illness’, but it’s the ‘social illness’ that people living with hepatitis face.

“This ‘social illness’ can’t be cured by medicines, but it can be cured by speaking up and with knowledge, understanding and love,” Lien said.

“I’m excited about being on the Board and I’m committed to make an impact.”