WPRO candidate: Lien Tran

I was born in a small village in Northern Vietnam in the 1980s. My grandmother died of liver cancer when I was 6. My mother lives with hepatitis B. These facts were never discussed in the family and I didn’t know about my mother’s status until I discovered it by chance few years after I graduated from university. It was not discussed even when I was diagnosed with hepatitis B nearly 20 years ago at college. Even when I was desperate, and the diagnosis took away the golden opportunity of a village girl to go to Europe. The doctor who diagnosed me said that I could not go overseas because of my hepatitis B. It was tragic every time a new fact was discovered but later on, especially when I started working in the sector, I knew I was not alone. There are hundreds of millions of people could have had similar experiences with hundreds of millions live in our Western Pacific Region. Since then, I have been able to name it “stigma”, “discrimination”, “lack of awareness”, “late diagnosis” and so on. I feel urged, from both personal passion and professional motivation, to speak up about them, to fight against them hand in hand with my peers. Joining WHA Board to be able to contribute to WHA’s mission is the best fit and most effective approach that I have found and would like to persuade member organisations in the region to support me.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 115 million people living with hepatitis B and 14 million people living with hepatitis C in our Western Pacific region, with 1,200 people die daily because they do not have access to effective hepatitis care. At my current workplace of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis (WHOCC VH) at Doherty Institute, my colleagues work collaboratively with the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office (WPRO) to support countries in the region to improve the hepatitis diagnosis and care towards the elimination targets. 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 would 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!”

I strongly believe in working collaboratively and have enjoyed building effective working relationships with individuals, organisations and agencies in my work in Vietnam and Australia. Before moving to Australia in 2015, I worked in Vietnam firstly in research and then in the HIV/AIDS system where I engaged with colleagues locally and internationally. Some examples are hospitals and institutes providing HIV/AIDS research, testing and treatments in Vietnam, universities conducting research in infectious disease and malaria control such as Mahidol University – Thailand, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – UK. These collaborations resulted in work outputs that were highlighted at national and regional forums. In Australia, I had opportunities to focus on hepatitis work and collaborate with community organisations to deliver hepatitis education to their staff and community members, including Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Australian Vietnamese Women Association among others. I also established and facilitated a community advisory group with members living with hepatitis B or C from 6 different cultural backgrounds to successfully create a children story book that was presented at the Innovation Panel at the 2nd World Hepatitis Summit in 2017.

At times, I think of hepatitis B as our “family heritage” and pleased it was broken at my generation and my kids are free from hepatitis B. I didn’t think of it that way before. It is with great thanks and happiness to recognise that I have finally felt less stigmatised and guilty of living with hepatitis B. This has been contributed by putting myself forward to speak up about it. Each time I speak up in front of people, either at meetings, conferences or on media, I feel empowered when being listened and seeing the impact. It is still my learning curve as I have not been able to talk about hepatitis B comfortably back home in Vietnam due to the fear of discrimination. I share the feelings of many of my peers in a world where hepatitis discrimination still exists.

I am motivated to join WHA to get together with my peers to share our journey in building courage to speak up and fight the “social illness” of the infection so more and more people will be in the front line to manage their “clinical illness”. I look forward to see the current resolution WHA having of “Find the Missing Millions” become a movement actively participated by the affected community with the courage to get testing and “Join the Missing Millions”

Testimonials

Lien is an emerging leader in the response to chronic hepatitis B who I have known since 2015. Soon after her arrival in Melbourne to study an MPH, Lien had engaged with our state hepatitis organisation and has repeatedly featured in Australian news media as a passionate viral hepatitis advocate. She met our state Health Minister and her engagement helped deliver our first state Hepatitis B Strategy. Her viral hepatitis experience spans working for a hepatitis organisation, in primary care BBV/STI workforce development, and public health as an epidemiologist at our WHO CC. Lien developed ‘Little Hep B Hero’, a unique resource for children that was awarded an innovation scholarship to present at the WHS in São Paulo in 2017. She is a highly committed, sincere advocate with great integrity and interpersonal skills and would be a fantastic representative for our Region and an exceptional addition to the Board.

- Benjamin Cowie, Director - WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis, Doherty Institute, Melbourne, Australia

During her time working at Hepatitis Victoria I found Lien to be a quietly confident and highly skilled health promotion officer & community educator. One example of her work, a children’s story book Little HepB hero captured the attention of the Minister for Health who issued a statement supporting the launch of the resource. It was also presented at the 2017 World Hepatitis Summit in São Paulo, Brazil. Lien’s strong cross-cultural communication skills have been very helpful in improving hepatitis B health literacy among Vietnamese communities in Melbourne and across Australia. She has also been involved in the development of an award-winning APP aimed at assisting people to manage hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

The breadth of Lien’s experience and professional skills is remarkable. She has also undertaken voluntary work with the World Health Organization, Global Hepatitis Program, community education with Aboriginal health organisations, and more recently has conducted epidemiological research in conjunction with leading researchers at the Doherty Institute.
I have no doubt that Lien has the required abilities, attributes and drive to make a success of the Regional WHA Board Member role for the Western Pacific.

- Helen Tyrrell, CEO – Hepatitis Australia and WHA Board Member