A woman's battle against HBV discrimination

Updated: 2011-08-07 10:21


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HANGZHOU - Xiao Jing quit her job last month and set off on a journey to make a difference.

The 24-year-old woman strolls down the downtown streets of the nation's large cities, approaching strangers with a placard in her hand that says "I'm a hepatitis B virus (HBV) carrier; May I invite you to dinner?"

"It may seem a little crazy, but hopefully, by doing this, I will help more people to understand that they will not get infected by simply having dinner with HBV carriers," Xiao said.

"So far, I have traveled to five cities. More than 30 people have accepted my invitation," she said.

Xiao started her journey in the city of Dongguan in South China's Guangdong province on July 3. She then decided to travel to China's large- and medium-sized cities to fight discrimination against HBV carriers.

China currently has 93 million people infected with HBV, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health on July 28.

The hepatitis B virus can only be spread by blood-to-blood contact or through sexual contact with an infected person. Normal contact with HBV carriers, such as shaking hands or hugging, bears no risk of infection. However, there are many people in China who shun contact with the infected, as they have not received proper education about the virus.

"I can see the alertness and fear in the eyes of passersby. Some people even refuse to talk with me when I try to communicate," Xiao sighed.

Xiao is not alone in her battle against discrimination. In fact, she is a member of an informal philanthropic organization known as the "weeding" group.

The group is made up of six HBV carriers who are endeavoring to "help people rid themselves of the weeds of discrimination that have grown in their hearts," according to Xiao.

Hepatitis B was often mistaken for a type of highly infectious virus, with employers and educators freely discriminating against HBV carriers. For example, pre-employment health standards for civil servants once forbade HBV carriers from working in government institutions.

For decades, national public health campaigns failed to make a clear distinction between hepatitis A and B. China's most recent hepatitis A outbreak occurred in the city of Shanghai in the 1980s. The lack of knowledge about the medical features of Hepatitis A and B had haunted people.

A regulation jointly issued by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in 2010 stated that compulsory tests for HBV must be removed from pre-employment physical exams for civil servants.

However, it seems that workplace discrimination against HBV carriers has not been completely wiped out. According to a survey results released in February by the non-profit Beijing Yirenping Center, 61.1 percent of the country's 180 state-run companies surveyed still include hepatitis B checks in their pre-employment physical examinations.

"The government has already issued a set of laws and regulations to protect the rights of HBV carrier. The most important thing to do now is to ensure the successful implementation of those laws and regulations," said Zhu Yimin, a professor of public health at Zhejiang University.

Zhu said that there is still a lack of proper knowledge about hepatitis B among the general public. He added that it is important for the government to improve the public's knowledge of the virus in order to prevent future discrimination.

A member of "weeding" group who refused to give her name said that self-denial and a sense of inferiority are more harmful to HBV carriers than any discrimination they might face.

"Many carriers live their life in isolation. The government and various social organizations should pay more attention to the mental health of HBV carriers," she said.

Xiao Jing said the "weeding" group is planning to invite prominent celebrities to a dinner in order to expand the influence of their campaign.

"I believe that there will be a day when care and empathy will take the place of prejudice," she said.