Hepatitis B activists publish major new research report highlighting employment discrimination in China

Despite government moves to eradicate employment discrimination against people with HBV, the virus that causes Hepatitis B, employers still routinely refuse to hire HBV-positive job candidates, and there is still a widespread fear and misunderstanding of the disease in Chinese society, according to a new research report by the HBV activist and support group, Yirenping (益仁平) - now available in English translation.

There are an estimated 130 million people living with HBV in China, the vast majority of whom keep their condition secret so as avoid social prejudice and discrimination at work and school. As many of those interviewed in Yirenping’s report pointed out “the look on someone’s face changes the instant you talk about hepatitis.”

The 60,000 Chinese character report was based on over 60 extensive and free-ranging interviews conducted in ten different cities, with both those discriminated against and those discriminating, in order to build up a picture of how hepatitis B discrimination has become such an ingrained and systemic problem in China.

The report traces the fear of hepatitis back to an outbreak of hepatitis A in Shanghai in 1988 which killed dozens of people and infected 300,000 others. Hepatitis A is spread through eating contaminated foodstuffs. Hepatitis B, on the other hand, can only be spread by the exchange of bodily fluids, most commonly through unprotected sex, exposure to infected blood, and vertical transmission from mother to child. However, there has never been a public health campaign in China that made a clear distinction between Hepatitis B and A, and, as the report clearly shows, many people still believe that the virus can be spread through shared eating utensils, etc.

The report reveals a very clear causal relationship stemming from this paucity of knowledge among the general public and employers. Ignorance, fuelled by misleading advertisements exaggerating the dangers of HBV, created a widespread fear of HBV; that fear developed into societal prejudice, with people living with HBV being shunned and excluded by the public. And it is this mentality of exclusion, Yirenping says, that has formed the basis of employment discrimination against HBV-positive people.

In its recommendations, Yirenping calls for tighter and more effective legislation against discrimination, improved public education, encouragement for non-government organizations to help monitor and fight HBV discrimination, and for individuals to file lawsuits against employers, and finally for an end to the medical test that employers routinely use to screen out applicants with HBV.

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