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For Immediate Release

May 11, 2010



Stephanie Goss / (415) 292-3420 x 330

   David Stupplebeen / (415) 292-3420 x 361


Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center hosts press conference exposing state of HIV and hepatitis B epidemic in A&PI community for National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and World Hepatitis Day


San Francisco, CA. On Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center will host a press conference exposing the state of the HIV and hepatitis B (HBV) epidemics among Asians and Pacific Islanders (A&PIs). The press conference occurs on May 19th, the 6th annual National A&PI HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and World Hepatitis Day. Both diseases are silently ravaging A&PI communities in the U.S. Panel participants include Lance Toma (Executive Director of A&PI Wellness Center), Dr. Tri Do (an epidemiologist and researcher at University of California San Francisco), Assemblywoman and Speaker pro Tempore Fiona Ma (a leading voice in the A&PI community on hepatitis B) and Ryan Ong Palao (better known as “Ongina” from the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race).


Both HIV and HBV infections are highly stigmatized in the A&PI community, and are transmitted in similar ways. Unlike HIV, individuals can be vaccinated against HBV, the virus that causes hepatitis B. Though the disease is preventable, A&PIs still fail to get screened or vaccinated against infection. 1 in 10 A&PIs in the U.S. are chronically infected with HBV—compared to 1 in 1000 among the general population—and A&PIs account for half of all HBV-related deaths in the US (due to liver cancer or failure). A&PIs silently bear the brunt of this epidemic and, since HBV infections are often asymptomatic, very few learn they are infected until it is too late.


Similarly, the threat of HIV/AIDS continues to grow in the U.S., particularly in communities of color who collectively represent 70% of the national epidemic. The impact of the disease among A&PIs is alarming, though less-publicized than that of Blacks and Latinos. The most recent data shows A&PI men and women have the highest percentage annual increase in new HIV infections, higher than any other racial or ethnic group. HIV infection rates among A&PI youth are also on the rise. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of HIV diagnoses among young A&PI gay men more than doubled. Despite this, over two thirds of A&PIs have never been tested for HIV.


It can be challenging to reach the diverse community of more than 13 million A&PIs in the U.S.—making up a population of over 49 distinct ethnic groups speaking more than 100 languages and dialects—with life-saving prevention education information. The need for culturally and linguistically competent health information and providers is great, yet HIV prevention information is available mostly in English and Spanish. This, coupled with the common misconception that A&PIs are at “low risk” for HIV, makes it difficult to communicate HIV risk to many A&PIs. Clearly, HIV stigma affects the A&PI community—where high-risk behavior is often kept under wraps, even between peers—posing significant barriers to HIV testing and timely access to care for many A&PIs.


Lance Toma and Dr. Do will frame the impact of both diseases on the A&PI community, presenting compelling statistical information while identifying key barriers to HIV and HBV prevention education. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, a leading voice in the A&PI community and an HBV carrier, will offer her perspective on the state of hepatitis B in California. Ryan Ong Palao will share his personal experiences living with HIV, after publicly disclosing his status on the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.


A&PI Wellness Center will also premiere a new public service announcement at the event, “Saving face can’t make you safe. Talk about HIV.” Saving face is a common concept in many A&PI cultures, where the individual seeks to protect the family or community from shame or public disgrace. In practice, “saving face” can prevent people from talking about sexual health or HIV, leading to low HIV testing rates, misconceptions about HIV transmission, safer sex practices and ultimately, increased HIV risk.


The press conference will take place at 10:00 am on Wednesday, May 19th at A&PI Wellness Center’s office (730 Polk Street, 4th Floor, San Francisco). For more information about the event, please contact David Stupplebeen at 415-292-3420 ext. 361 or Speakers will be available for comment after the press conference.



About Dr. Tri Do

Tri Do, MD, MPH, AAHIVS joined Roche Molecular Diagnostics in July 2008 as Director of Clinical Research and Scientific Affairs for HIV and CMV, overseeing clinical trials involving nucleic acid based viral load testing. He is also an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco where he completed a post-doctoral fellowship in HIV/AIDS research in 2004 and was an Assistant Professor from 2004-2008. While at UCSF, his NIH-funded research focused on the social and molecular epidemiology of HIV infection and HIV testing in communities of color. He has been an attending physician at the UCSF Positive Health Program (PHP) at San Francisco General Hospital since 2002. He provided clinical consultation to the Centers for Disease Control under the PEPFAR program in 2005, teaching and providing clinical mentorship to physicians in Vietnam. He currently serves on the board of several non-profit organizations that provide HIV prevention and treatment services to underserved communities domestically and internationally.


About Assemblywoman Fiona Ma

In November 2008, Fiona Ma was elected to a second term to represent the people of California’s 12th Assembly District. Assemblywoman Ma serves as Speaker pro Tempore, where she presides over Assembly Floor Sessions and policy deliberations. She is a member of key committees including Agriculture, Business and Professions, Governmental Organization, Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security, and Utilities and Commerce. Assemblywoman Ma has authored groundbreaking legislation to protect young children from dangerous chemicals, help California’s working families pay the bills, prevent the spread of Hepatitis B, increase access to quality healthcare, provide equal rights for all Californians, and grow the state’s economy.  Assemblywoman Ma received her B.S. from the Rochester Institute of Technology (NY), her M.S. in Taxation from Golden Gate University (SF), and an MBA from Pepperdine University. She is a Certified Public Accountant licensed in California.


About Ryan Ong Palao

Ryan Ong Palao, also known as Ongina from RuPaul’s Drag Race, came from the Philippines to the US in 1994. He currently resides in Los Angeles and when he isn’t dazzling audiences around the world, he works as a Regional Visual Merchandiser for a specialty retail boutique. Ryan was recently a featured panelist at the 2009 United States Conference on AIDS in San Francisco, and has done numerous interviews raising awareness about HIV.


About Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center

Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center is a health services, education, research and policy organization dedicated to educating, supporting, empowering and advocating for Asian and Pacific Islander (A&PI) communities—particularly A&PIs living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS. With staff fluent in 20 languages, A&PI Wellness Center delivers programs regionally, statewide, and nationally, and collaborates with community-based organizations throughout the Asia Pacific Region. For press materials or more information please visit


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