COURTESY RIVER OF LIFE MISSION
Ken Akinaka, executive director of the Hepatitis Support Network of Hawaii, distributes kits to people while they are lined up for lunch.
Homeless get help fighting diseases
Two hundred homeless people at the River of Life Mission received safety kits yesterday meant to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and perhaps save lives.
Lend a hand
To make a contribution to provide kits to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases among the homeless and the poor, visit hepatitis.idlinks.com and click on the Save-a-Life Safety Kit link.
But more funds are needed to help other at-risk people statewide, health officials said.
"This fund, while very needed for Oahu, is limited to Oahu only, and so we need to raise money to provide kits to the neighbor islands," said Ken Akinaka, executive director of the Hepatitis Support Network of Hawaii.
State Rep. John Mizuno was one of a handful of people passing out plastic storage bags filled with nail clippers, razors, plastic bandages and other items to those waiting to get a hot meal at 101 N. Pauahi St.
"It's my understanding that our homeless population -- their rate of hepatitis B, C, HIV and other infectious disease is two to three times higher than the general population," said Mizuno as he presented an award to Akinaka. "So it's very important that we try to address this issue now within the homeless community, and it will also provide protection as they interact with the general population."
Adding to yesterday's giveaway, 1,000 more Save-a-Life kits will be distributed thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Public Health Fund Committee of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. Funds will also go to raise awareness about prevention, control and treatment options. Organizers estimate that another $10,000 per island is needed to purchase supplies.
Since the program was launched in 2006, more than 1,000 kits have been distributed. There is also an on-site hepatitis C screening and treatment program at the River of Life Mission in downtown Honolulu.
"We're dealing with an undercurrent of our society: the homeless, the houseless, the needy," said Dr. Alan Tice, a University of Hawaii-Manoa professor and private-practice infectious disease specialist. "These people are in need of better medical care, which we are trying to provide through the safety kits. Not only are they good for general things in terms of personal hygiene, cleanliness, etc. They are also important in preventing the spread of disease -- particularly infectious disease."
There are two types of infectious diseases of concern that can potentially spread in the homeless population: Blood-borne pathogens -- such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B, HIV or AIDS -- and staphylococcus infections, said Tice.
According to the Staphylococcus Institute, a new Centers for Disease Control study indicated that there has been an increase in hospitalizations for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and about 19,000 Americans die each year of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph.
"We have a problem in Hawaii, and we need to address it." Tice added. "These diseases run rampant in the populations of the homeless who cannot care for themselves, who don't have the resources that the rest of us do."