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Hepatitis B Foundation applauds HHS letter on discrimination against people living with hepatitis B who are pursuing careers in health care

Doylestown, Pa., Nov. 6, 2020 -- The Hepatitis B Foundation applauds the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for issuing a letter to health professions schools in the U.S., calling for renewed attention to admissions and clinical placement policies and their obligation to comply with federal civil rights laws that protect the rights of people living with hepatitis B. 

In the U.S., an estimated 2.2 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B infection. Stigma and discrimination related to hepatitis B are often caused by lack of public awareness and fears and misconceptions about the disease. Students living with hepatitis B seeking education and training to become health care providers often face discriminatory admission policies and practices. 

The recent letter from Admiral Brett P. Giroir, assistant secretary for health, and Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, highlights current recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for hepatitis B-infected health care providers and students. Those recommendations state, “HBV [hepatitis B] infection alone should not disqualify infected persons from the practice or study of surgery, dentistry, medicine, or allied health fields.”

Director Severino added, “Because stigma attached to a disability can result in discriminatory exclusion, this is an important reminder about people’s rights and provider’s responsibilities under the law.”

The message also reemphasizes nondiscrimination policies, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibit discrimination against people living with hepatitis B.

“This message from HHS leadership brings much-needed national attention to the continued discrimination students living with hepatitis B face,” Chari Cohen, DrPH, MPH, senior vice president of the Hepatitis B Foundation, said. “Despite federal protections, we continue to receive phone calls and letters from students around the country who face unjustified denial of school admission and enrollment or dismissal from academic programs because of their hepatitis B infection.”

"The Hepatitis B Foundation, which has been fighting for the rights of people living with hepatitis B for nearly 30 years, is very pleased to have this new tool that will help students and health providers facing discrimination," Dr. Cohen said. "We are grateful to Admiral Giroir and Director Severino for prioritizing the rights of people living with hepatitis B."

Discriminatory admissions policies at health care profession schools were revealed in 2011 when two students contacted the Hepatitis B Foundation for assistance when they were denied admission to medical schools because they had hepatitis B. The Foundation then alerted the U.S. Department of Justice, CDC and HHS, and helped coordinate the response that ultimately led to an agreement that people living with hepatitis B deserve protection under the ADA. In 2013, with support from and in collaboration with HHS and the U.S. Department of Education, a landmark settlement by the U.S. Department of Justice ruled the medical school had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Hepatitis B Foundation encourages persons living with hepatitis B who experience discrimination at a school in the U.S. to file a complaint with the HHS Office for Civil Rights. Additional resources, including guidance for health profession schools to assess and create policies and practices that adhere to CDC recommendations and legal requirements are available here.

Updated 11/09/20