Recently, a 26-year-old professional wanted to call off her engagement after she got to know that her fiancé was hepatitis B positive. Meanwhile, a young man got engaged without divulging his hepatitis B positive status out of fear that he won’t find a match.
Hepatitis B is a blood-borne infection and can be sexually transmitted, especially if multiple partners are involved.
More often than not, those infected chose not to reveal their status out of fear of being stigmatised and discriminated against. An estimated 60 million people are carriers of hepatitis B and C — responsible for liver cirrhosis (scarring) and even cancer.
Doctors say that as many as nine out of 10 young people have reservations about their spouses or would-be spouses knowing about their viral hepatitis status. However, they maintained, the fears in most cases are ill-founded.
“People need to know that only one of 100 die of hepatitis B infection and only 10-20% of those carrying the virus will suffer from the disease,” says Dr SK Sarin, director, Institute of Live and Biliary Sciences (ILBS).
Moreover, doctors asserted, the worry about contracting the infection is also baseless as people can protect themselves from the infection by getting vaccinated. While the disease may have no cure, chances of transmission can be severely cut by taking three shots in seven months (0-1-6), they maintained.
However, doctors explained that there is a difference between vaccination and immunisation. Taking vaccine shots does not mean you’re immune. “If a person has antibody levels of more than 10, then (s)he has developed adequate immunity against the infection and risk of sexual transmission has been cut,” says Dr Sarin.
Moreover, cases of female to male transmission of virus have, so far, been extremely rare. The risk of transmission from mother to child is high but even that can be prevented by vaccinating the child at birth.
Doctors said that lack of awareness regarding the blood-borne infection among the masses is a major factor for people facing discrimination. It is almost similar to what people living with HIV face.
Over the years, the government has been aggressively trying to deter people from discriminating against HIV infected people and make life easier for them.
In September 2018, India notified the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act that criminalises discrimination against HIV-positive people and those living with them. The law now bars from making a person undergo an HIV test to get a job or for education.
The list also include denial, termination, discontinuation or unfair treatment with regard to employment, educational establishments, healthcare services, residing or renting property, standing for public or private office and provision of insurance.
Moreover, it is mandatory for cases pertaining to HIV positive persons to be disposed of by the court on a priority basis while ensuring confidentiality.
This revolutionary law per se may not be applicable to those who are not HIV positive but it has set things into motion.
“When we drafted the law we wanted it to be extended to other diseases, which didn’t happen. However, since it retains the core that of anti-discrimination and maintaining confidentiality, it can over time change to a general medical law,” says Anand Grover, senior advocate.
“Till that happens, anyone who feels discriminated against by the state can rightfully approach a court for justice under India’s constitution.”
Similarly, the ILBS has also launched a campaign called EMPATHY, an initiative to empower people against hepatitis. “We are also trying to generate awareness in people that those discriminated against owing to their condition can go to court,” says Dr Sarin, reports Hindustan Times.