Ministry denies plan to drop hepatitis test

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2009, 12:00am

There was another twist to the furore over hepatitis B testing yesterday when a Ministry of Health spokesman denied there were plans to remove the virus from employment or education health checks.

A Sichuan newspaper on Sunday quoted a health official as saying a policy directive was due to be released soon ordering the practice to be stopped because there was 'no scientific evidence' to back up the need for hepatitis B to be included in standard health checks.

The news was latched on to by rights activists who have been fighting a long-running battle with discrimination against hepatitis B carriers, and was picked up by media across the mainland. However, the Health Ministry spokesman said the comments had merely been an 'expert opinion' and did not reflect official policy. The official whose comments sparked the story said he had been misunderstood.

Cui Fuqiang, head of the hepatitis division under the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's national immunisation programme, told Xinhua the comments had been his personal views and he denied he was privy to internal Health Ministry policy discussions.

'Whether or not the Ministry of Health is currently researching a policy of this type, I personally have no knowledge of it,' Dr Cui said.

Extensive health checks are compulsory across the mainland before entering kindergarten, university or when applying for a job.

There are officially rules against a positive hepatitis B result influencing the applications, but reports of discrimination are widespread.

Dr Cui's original comments, published in the Chengdu Evening News on Sunday, had come hot on the heels of a directive banning kindergartens from turning away children who tested positive for hepatitis B, and had been seen as a further step forward.

But hepatitis B rights activist Lu Jun vowed to fight on, saying it was 'just a matter of time' before the campaign succeeded.

'I am not too disappointed. This sort of thing has happened to me many times before,' he said.

'I do not know whether this really was just his personal opinion, or whether he revealed something the ministry was not ready to make public yet. Either way this will come about, the only question is when.' There was no international standard in place, Mr Lu said.

'Other countries do not test for hepatitis B like this, so eventually China will conform to that,' he said.

Hepatitis B is a potentially deadly viral infection of the liver for which there is no cure, but vaccination is possible. It is not passed on through ordinary daily contact as it requires the transfer of bodily fluids, but it is 50 to 100 times more contagious than HIV due to its virulence.

The virus is a major problem on the mainland, which has one of the highest infection rates in the world.