Asian Center to overcome social barriers, improve health and reduce health disparities

“Interview with the Director Janilla Lee”

By Laura Kang
Would you introduce yourself and share your background?

My name is Janilla Lee. I was born and raised in Taiwan. I studied Chemistry in college and came to this country after earning my bachelor degree. I studied the Theory of Chemistry in graduate school and received my PhD in Quantum Mechanics. I worked as a metallurgist for 1 year, but much of my career was as a design engineer for Ford for 25 years. I taught material engineering at Central Michigan State University after my retirement. Currently I am serving as the executive director of the Asian Center.

What is Asian Center?

Asian Center’s mission is to overcome social barriers, improve health and reduce health disparities for Asian Americans in Michigan. The main goals of the Asian Center include educating Asians about health awareness and providing information on the benefits that are available, especially to those who are uninsured and less educated among the Asian community. There are many benefits not taken advantage of simply because people are not aware of the existence of the provisions available for them. The Asian Center is here to provide that need.

Your background has nothing to do with anything health related. What made you start this organization?

This center was organized to keep the spirit of deceased Dr. Yu who was the head of Nursing Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Dr. Yu began the Health Asian American project in 1996 and worked until 2005 when she passed away. I assisted Dr. Yu as an associate director because of my heavy involvement within the community. I also had the opportunity to help with her project of Breast Cancer Awareness for the Asian community. When she passed away, her project was still going on. But after some time, the program lost all the grants and I didn’t want the hard work of Dr. Yu to go to waste.

What is the proportion of the Asian population in Michigan and what is the uninsured rate for each nationality?

In Michigan, the latest available data shows that the 5 largest populations are Asian Indians with 67,481 people with 9% uninsured, Chinese with 33,214 people with 12% uninsured, Philippian with 22,558 people with 10% uninsured, Korean with 22,558 people with 14% uninsured, and Vietnamese with 8,004 people no data available for uninsured. 12% of population was uninsured in the state [1].

What are some common diseases Asians should be aware of?

The greatest health threat to Asians in particular is Hepatitis B. 1 in 10 Asians suffer from Hepatitis B. While Hepatitis A is cause by sharing of food, Hepatitis B is transmitted by blood transfusion. Common routes of infections include mothers to babies in their wombs, sharing of razors, sharing toothbrushes when there is an open wound in the mouth, and possibly sexual intercourse. Statistics on the percentage of carriers by nationality are: 12% in Vietnamese within the Vietnamese community, 10% in Chinese within the Chinese community, and 8% of Koreans within the Korean community. 10% of Asian Americans have Hepatitis B while less than .5% of Americans have this disease.

The second biggest concern is Tuberculosis. In Michigan, Asian Americans comprised 23% of tuberculosis cases in 2008. [2].

The third concern is cancer amongst Asians. The latest data reveals that Asian Americans in the Detroit metro area were the only racial group in which cancer was the leading cause of death; 27% of Asian American deaths were caused by cancer, while 24% resulted from heart disease [2]. The most frequent cancer found in Asians is liver cancer. Half of liver cancer is believed to be caused by Hepatitis B (which Asians are more susceptible to), while other attributions may be heavy drinking and high stress level among Asian men.

Skin cancer is quite low among Asians, perhaps because the pigment in Asian skin blocks off UV light that limits the risk of skin disease.

The fourth concern is BMI (Body Mass Index). BMI values between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered healthy and present minimal risk for cardiovascular disease. Although Asians appear to be slim, they rank 2 units higher in the BMI index. Higher BMI can cause:

• Joint & muscle pains
• Lack of energy and ability to join in desired activities
• Poor regulation of bodily fluids and blood pressure
• Burden on your heart and circulatory system
• Poor sleep patterns
• Increase in blood triglycerides, blood glucose, and risk of developing
type 2 diabetes
• Higher risk for heart disease and certain cancers [3]

What other warnings would you like to share with Asian community?

Three health warnings were given to Asians especially as a form of prevention. The first is the sharing of toothbrushes. Some Asians may take this very lightly especially among family members. However, this can cause the spread of gingivitis and as mentioned above, can spread Hepatitis B to a non-infected family member. The second is the sharing of razors for shaving. Men cut their faces while shaving, and Hepatitis B can be transmitted by blood and open wounds. The same guidelines should be applied to women, as many shave their armpits and legs. The third is that when one partner is treated for a certain disease, both partners should be treated. Germs are shared by cohabiting partners, so a disease like ulcers should be treated for both people to prevent the disease from cycling back and forth.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Asian Center hosts the Asian American Health Conversation every year. This year, it will take place on June 11 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 24666 Northwestern Highway, Southfield, MI. There are 2 programs that will run during this time: health promotion and prevention as a group. This will especially benefit those that are of an older age (60+), so that they can live independent, healthy lives while living on their own. When children are not there to assist them daily, they can call ahead of time to have people come into their apartments to assist with health issues they are not able to handle by themselves. All elderly people who have either citizenship or a green card qualify for this service. ■

[1] “Detroit Metro Area Demographics (Ethnic Groups)”. Community of Contrast study (Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, 2012). 36
[2] “Detroit Metro Area Health“. Community of Contrast study (Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, 2012). 45
[3] “Body Mass Index In Adults.” American Heart Association, 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 06 June 2016.

MI ASIAN writer Laura Kang(left) is having an interview with Janilla Lee, the Director of Asian Center
MI Asian Staff
Author: MI Asian Staff