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Movie focuses lens on hepatitis B issue

By ZHOU WENTING in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2023-04-18 08:00
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From left: Cheng Zhuo, head of a hepatitis B patient community, Zhang Hui, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and an epidemiological expert, Jin Fangqian, vice-president of Gilead Sciences and general manager of its China arm, and Wang Jing, director of the movie, talk about the film, The Best Is Yet to Come, during a post-screening discussion with the audience in Beijing on March 28. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Best Is Yet to Come, a film in which people infected with the hepatitis B virus played roles, is on release nationwide and has sparked heated discussion about discrimination against hepatitis B patients.

The film focuses on an intern reporter who attempts to help change the destiny of an individual infected with HBV through news reports.

Cheng Zhuo, who joined as an actor in the film supported by the US-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, is head of a hepatitis B patient community. He says the movie was adapted from a true story. The topic of discrimination against HBV carriers gained widespread social attention in 2003 thanks to journalists' efforts.

In 2010, the central authorities released a document specifying that HBV tests be excluded from physical examination tests for school enrollment and employment.

Improvements were witnessed regarding the rights of the individuals infected with the virus when seeking school places and applying for jobs, says Cheng.

An internet user, under the pen name of Shang Mantian, writes in an online post stating that she is now in her 70s and used to be a hepatitis B patient.

"I sincerely appreciate the film for reproducing that period of history in a realistic manner," she writes.

Another movie viewer, who tested positive for the virus in 2002 in her teens, also shares her personal experience on social media.

She was isolated by classmates and neighbors after she tested positive, she writes, under the pen name of Xiao Yu.

She was turned down for antenatal checkups at multiple hospitals in Beijing in 2010.

"I didn't know until I watched the movie that the journalists helped facilitate policy changes. I really wanted to thank them," she writes.

However, the stigma placed on hepatitis B sufferers remains in society, Cheng says.

In 2019, a national survey found that nearly 59 percent of those infected with the virus yearned for better support in tackling employment discrimination. Also, nearly half of them hoped to obtain help or psychological guidance to better accept themselves.

The survey polled 671 people infected with the virus.

Zhuang Hui, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and an epidemiological expert, says discrimination is largely related to misunderstanding from the public about the transmission channels of the virus.

He reiterates that mother-infant, blood, and sexual contact are the main ways of HBV transmission.

"HBV is not transmittable through the respiratory tract and digestive tract, and therefore, contact with someone infected with the virus in daily life and work will not pose any risk of infection if it doesn't involve blood exposure," says Zhuang.

He says that, on one hand, such discrimination can only be eliminated when more people clearly know the transmission channels of the virus. On the other, individuals infected with the virus should face up to the disease and actively engage in standardized antiviral treatment.

Experts note that chronic hepatitis B is a main cause of cirrhosis of the liver and even hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of primary liver cancer. The World Health Organization proposed in June 2022 the target of 80 percent of HBV infected individuals to be medically treated by 2030.

According to the National Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention, so far, there are 86 million chronic HBV carriers in China. Among these, 28 million cases need medical treatment, but only 17 percent of them actually get treatment.

Effective antiviral treatment can inhibit the replication of the virus, and the risk of liver cancer among hepatitis B patients can be reduced by roughly 50 percent after receiving standard antiviral treatment for five years, according to a paper published in the journal BMC Cancer last year.

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