Hepatitis B carriers offered false hope of beating health checks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 April, 2007, 12:00am

Hepatitis B carriers are being targeted by an online scam offering a drug that its sellers claim can help them beat tests for detecting the virus.

Mainland media reported that the drug, advertised as 'a hepatitis B health test-cheating drug', could be deadly. The reports said that, since January, a message had appeared in internet chatrooms offering to supply medication to put the hepatitis B virus 'to sleep' for several hours so that a carrier could obtain a negative result in health tests for school admission or employment.

Websites of two companies which allegedly sold the drug, Shanghai's Longcheng Pharmaceutical Company and Zhuxingkang Health Science Trade and Development, which is of unspecified origin, still advertise the drug, although their telephone numbers appear to have been disconnected.

The drug is also available for 136 yuan a dose through a blog registered in the name of 'Long Deyong', who claims to work for Longcheng. The blog provides two bank accounts in Mr Long's name but no other contact details.

Mr Liao, 28, a hepatitis B carrier fired by his Suzhou employer last year because of the condition, said he would have bought the drug if a relative, a doctor, had not told him such a drug was impossible.

'To get a job we need to pass the health test,' Mr Liao said. 'And we need a job in order to survive.'

The Ministry of Health decreed in new civil service health requirements released in January 2005 that hepatitis B carriers could be employed as public servants.

But according to hepatitis B activist Lu Jun , there is still widespread discrimination against carriers in schools and work places, mostly due to ignorance of the condition, creating a breeding ground for the scam. 'This scam happened because of China's unreasonable health test system,' Mr Lu said.

There is no specific law protecting the rights of the mainland's hepatitis B carriers, a population numbering at least 120 million, and activists are pushing for targeted legal protection of those rights.

Experts quoted in the Economic Information Daily on Wednesday said the advertised ingredients in the drugs, hepatitis B immunoglobulin and lamivudine, were used to treat the virus but could put the patients' lives in danger if the dosage was not properly prescribed.

State and Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Yan Jiangying said it had not received any complaints about the drug and the body had not licensed it for use.

Beijing Ditan Hospital liver specialist Cai Haodong said the scam highlighted a fundamental problem. 'You can't eradicate this problem by telling people not to buy the drug. You must allow hepatitis B carriers to work. Then there would be no need to cheat in the tests, and no room for fake drugs,' he said.