Hepatitis B Patients Face Broad Discrimination in China

July 4, 2008 Updated: July 4, 2008

HONG KONG—Having passed a civil service exam, a Zhejiang University graduate was subsequently rejected when he was found to have hepatitis B. In a fury, he killed the recruiting official.

It was 2003, and he had graduated from one of China's finest schools. The court found him guilty of murder and handed down the death penalty. He tore the court document stating his sentence into pieces.

A Ph.D. from Xiamen University was unable to secure a job when he was found to be a carrier of hepatitis B. He ended his life by hanging himself in a bathroom.

Many such tragedies occur in China every year, according to Lu Jun, coordinator of the Yirenping Center in Beijing and host of the “Liver and Gallbladder Care” Web site.

Hepatitis B patients face serious discrimination in China. Lu says that such discrimination leads directly to hatred, social exclusion, and tragedies such as these. People with hepatitis B have difficulty finding employment or attending school.

Eighty percent of foreign companies with branches in China also refuse to hire people with hepatitis B.

It is estimated that approximately 100 million people in China carry the hepatitis B virus. Since 2003, many have connected through the “Liver and Gallbladder Care Forum” (bbs.hbvhbv.com).

The forum has become a home for hepatitis B patients who seek information and basic human rights. It enables them to fight discrimination, including organizing anti-discrimination lawsuits against government agencies.

Instead of supporting the forum, however, Lu says that the Chinese communist regime has responded by suppressing and banning it. This has led to much anger and disappointment among those affected.

Lu identifies three factors that have contributed to the widespread discrimination against hepatitis B patients.

First, a lack of government regulation of advertising practices used by pharmaceutical companies resulted in exaggerated claims of the infectious nature of hepatitis B. Though their intention was to increase sales, their tactics led the public to fear and misunderstand the disease.

Second, the government process for hiring civil service employees included screening for hepatitis B beginning in 1997. Many private enterprises followed suit, rejecting hepatitis B patients from employment.

Third, laws have been passed banning hepatitis patients in China from holding certain jobs, including janitor, elevator operator, cashier, schoolteacher, and all jobs in the food industry. These laws, over 20 in number, have deprived hepatitis B patients of their basic rights.