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A Personal Reflection on China for World Hepatitis Day – Part I

Sadly, like many Americans, until I came face-to-face with hepatitis B, I had no idea of the global implications.  Over the years, raising HBV awareness has been a quiet mission.  In 2002 and 2003 I was fortunate to travel to China, and help present train-the-trainer programs that were to be used in Chinese orphanages, presented to Chinese foster families, and used as training sessions for rural doctors.  The training programs were successful, and well received, but of course they were only a small contribution in a country where HBV infection is endemic.  In fact one in ten Chinese are chronically infected with hepatitis B.  Nearly one half-million die per year from HBV related liver cancer, or one Chinese person every 60 seconds.  As an American, I was aware of the discrimination faced by those living with HBV in the U. S., but I had no idea how widespread discrimination was throughout China.  For some naïve reason, I thought HBV infection would be better accepted in a country where so many are living with HBV.  I was very wrong.

Training participants listened with earnest as we reviewed infection control techniques and modes of transmission.  All were interested in the details.  Perhaps what was more sobering were the interactions in between and following these training sessions.   I found myself quietly met by a number of tentative women with downcast eyes.  They waited in the bathrooms, and stepped out of tiny alley-ways as we walked back to our hotel. They quickly surveyed the area, their eyes darting back and forth, before they asked their questions about HBV treatment, and outcomes.  The despair was was palpable.

We were invited to visit a local city orphanage.  The rooms were somewhat sterile, but cheerful and the care takers were very good with the children.  However, when we met with the staff, we learned of their concern of HBV infection among the children under their care.  They were concerned about transmission. However, they continued to treat infant illnesses with injections and IV drugs, rather than an alternate, oral medication. An orphanage is often a world unto it’s own, yet children with HBV are often segregated from the other children.   Children diagnosed with HBV outside of the orphanage environment may also be refused entry into school, although this practice may vary with the province, the city, or even the official in charge.  That doesn’t leave a child identified with HBV much of a future.

Perhaps one of the most sobering experiences was meeting with HBV-listserve members at a local tea house.  We were seated upstairs, away from other guests, which is not uncommon when foreigners are present, but it was clear this was more for their privacy.  They scanned the room and were careful not to speak when the server entered the room.  This was the first time they had met in person, and it was clear their hearts were heavy with the burden of living with HBV.  Throughout the evening, no names were used, and all members referred to one another by their screen names.  Most felt very isolated with their illness and were desperate for information.  Many were shunned by family and friends, were humiliated and forced to eat separately, or carry their own bowl and chopsticks. They lived alone with the knowledge of their infection, as widespread discrimination loses jobs and ruins families. There were a number of treatment questions.  Many were interested to know how long they needed to take the antiviral drugs, and whether or not they could stop for a while – if they were feeling better.  We told them that stopping and  re-starting treatment was not good, and they should speak with their doctor.  We didn’t realize that few were under the care of a doctor for their HBV.

Later, while traveling in Shanghai, we visited a lavish pharmacy.  All oral, prescription medications were available in China without being prescribed by a doctor.  Only injectable drugs required a physician’s prescription.  As a result, it was likely my listserve friends were self-medicating without the advice of a liver specialist.  The drugs were likely cost prohibitive, so the need to start and stop antiviral treatment was more a function of expense.  It was apparent that most were not being treated and monitored by a specialist.  The prospect was sad, all the way around.

Please join us as Thursday’s blog concludes “A Personal Reflection on China for World Hepatitis Day….

A Brave Hepatitis B Activist in China

I have been active in the HBV community for over twelve years, and during this time and I have been fortunate to make the acquaintance of some wonderful people, many who I consider good friends.  The story below was relayed to me by a friend, though it’s possible you may have seen it in the Chinese news.

This is a story about a very brave, Chinese girl with hepatitis B.  She studied in Japan, got her Masters, and married a PhD from China. Last year, she took all her savings, about 10,000 Yuan, with the blessing of her husband who was finishing his thesis in Japan, and went back to China. For the next twelve months, she traveled to major cities in China, all by herself.

At each stop, she held up a placard with a sign inviting passersby to have dinner with her, a person with hepatitis B, and that she would pay for the dinners – You eat, I pay. Of course, she repeated her story to the media to emphasize that it is safe to eat with a person that has HBV. A few nights ago, she appeared on CCTV, with another young hero, and they demonstrated how shaking hands with a person with HBV will not pass on the virus.  There was instant testing of the cloths wiping the hands of the infected women. Of course, they tested their saliva too, since Chinese people use chopsticks, and pick food from common plates. All this was presented in front of a live audience, and millions of viewers at home. It brought tears to my eyes.

The original graduate from Japan has stopped touring and is now making a documentary. Her husband left Japan on a boat to return to China, the day before the earthquake struck.  He is now home with his wife.

However the baton is taken up by another young Chinese lady, with the support of the other activist, and the tour is on again.

The actions taken by these young, Chinese activists are inspiring, and are true acts of bravery – especially in a country like China, where HBV discrimination is rampant.  Perhaps we are not all comfortable going public with our information, but we can all work behind the scenes, and help raise global, HBV awareness.  Tell us your story, or share it on the World Hepatitis Alliance Wall of Stories.

 

Show Your Support for World Hepatitis Day!

World Hepatitis Day is Thursday, July 28th!  Join the World Hepatitis Alliance.  The theme is “This is Hepatitis”, which is aimed at raising global awareness.  Globally, two billion people have been infected with hepatitis B, (one out of three), and 400 million live with a chronic, lifelong infection.  Although there are excellent treatments available, there is no cure for hepatitis B.  However, there is a safe and effective HBV vaccine.  If you are infected, be sure loved ones and household contacts are screened and vaccinated.  If you are not infected or not vaccinated, get vaccinated and help eliminate the spread of this virus, worldwide.

Show your support by adding a World Hepatitis Day PicBadge to your facebook and twitter profile pictures.  This makes a great visual statement.  You can also add the widget to your website or blog.  Take a look at HBF’s website, and note the slider at the top with “World Hepatitis Day”.  Check out the details on how to add the World Hepatitis Day PicBadge to your profiles and website.  Select the “add to profile picture” button.  Follow the instructions and the badge will be added to your FB and/or twitter profile pics.  (FYI.. I use hootsuite to manage my tweets, and it wasn’t initially obvious that it picked it up, but it worked fine. )  Check out HBFs FB and twitter profile pics to get an idea of how it looks.  Once you make the modifications, the PicBadge program will post the badge to your wall and tweet an invite to others to join with their support.  You can also have picbadge send a request to FB friends so they may lend their support.

On a personal note, consider sharing your story on the World Hepatitis Alliance’s “Wall of Stories”  Please feel free to share your story in your native language.  The more personal the stories, the better!

Be sure to let us know what you or your organization is up to for World Hepatitis Day!  No contribution is too small in the fight against viral hepatitis!