Ministry aims to stop preschools rejecting children with hepatitis B

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 August, 2009, 12:00am

The Ministry of Health has announced a plan to ban preschools from turning away toddlers with the hepatitis B virus, but parents fear this is not enough to curb the discrimination against them.

Under a draft amendment undergoing public consultation, all preschool organisations on the mainland would have to enrol children carrying hepatitis B as long as they had normal liver function.

Children are subject to compulsory check-ups including hepatitis B screening before starting preschool. The practice, which began in the 1990s, means most children who test positive are turned away. Some parents have no choice but to school their children at home or send them to preschools in rural areas.

Primary and secondary school pupils are not screened.

The mainland has one-third of the world's hepatitis B carriers, an estimated 100 million people.

In March this year, about 2,000 hepatitis B sufferers and their families sent a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao urging the government to scrap the compulsory hepatitis B viral blood tests.

Last October, more than 100 mothers wrote to State Councillor Liu Yandong , one of the most senior female officials, pleading for her intervention after their children were denied admission to kindergartens.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection, but the way the virus spreads means it is highly unlikely to do so in a preschool environment.

Lu Jun, chief co-ordinator of Yirenping, a Beijing-based rights group, welcomed the draft amendment.

'This is a correction of a historical mistake that prompted discrimination against hepatitis B carriers without scientific and humanitarian grounds for decades,' Mr Lu said.

Despite the good news, he feared the law could not be enforced effectively. Over the past 18 months, Yirenping had received about 100 complaints from virus carriers being discriminated against by employers even after a 2007 regulation banning them from imposing hepatitis B screenings.

A mother from Guangzhou who had the virus said she had rung more than 50 preschools in the city in the past year to find a place for her two-year-old daughter. However, none would accept her.

'I'm fully prepared for whatever will happen to me, but I can't put up with watching my girl being discriminated against from the first day she is born,' the mother said.

She described the draft amendment as a new dawn for many parents like herself, but she was not optimistic it would pass.

'Many people had left messages on internet forums expressing fears about study with children like ours,' she said.

A mother from Shandong said she welcomed the draft amendment but feared children would still be labelled by schools because parents would be required to show health reports to prove their children had normal liver function.

It is not an international practice to impose hepatitis B screenings on toddlers. Manju Rani of the World Health Organisation said discrimination against carriers in education or employment was unnecessary.

'The WHO does not recommend any testing of schoolchildren for hepatitis B at the time of school admission,' said the Indian-based Dr Rani, adding that there was no scientific basis for segregating the children.

Meanwhile, an online chat group for mothers of children with hepatitis B was shut down two weeks ago without explanation.