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Hepatitis B Foundation hails decision by U.S. Public Health Service Corps to accept future applicants living with chronic hepatitis B infection and HIV

The Foundation brought attention to a discriminatory practice two years ago after receiving a complaint from a person living with hepatitis B. 

Doylestown, Pa., Dec. 2, 2021 – The Hepatitis B Foundation applauds the decision of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to accept future applicants living with chronic hepatitis B infection and HIV.

The USPHS Commissioned Corps announced the change yesterday (Dec. 1), which was World AIDS Day. Previously, HIV and hepatitis B infection were both considered disqualifying medical conditions. This new decision reflects the latest scientific evidence and opens the door for applicants with hepatitis B and HIV to serve as uniformed Public Health Service officers.

The Hepatitis B Foundation became aware of the prohibition of applicants with hepatitis B in late 2020, when an individual with hepatitis B applied to serve but was denied due to his hepatitis B infection and contacted the Foundation. Since then, the Foundation has worked alongside partners advocating for a change in this policy. Hepatitis B Foundation leadership met with senior administration officials to raise awareness and urge them to prioritize this issue. Through legislative advocacy, the Foundation was able to get report language included in the FY 2022 House Labor-HHS Appropriations report urging the USPHS to allow officers with hepatitis B to serve in the Commissioned Corps.

“We are excited that people living with hepatitis B and HIV can now serve in the USPHS Commissioned Corps,” Chari A. Cohen, DrPH, MPH, president of the Hepatitis B Foundation said. “It will be so gratifying to explain to future consult callers that a hepatitis B infection will not stand in the way of their professional aspirations.”

This new win comes alongside a string of successes to end discrimination against people living with hepatitis B in the U.S. In 2012, the CDC published updated recommendations for healthcare providers and students with hepatitis B, clearly stating that hepatitis B was not a reason to deny or dismiss a person from practicing in a healthcare profession. In 2013, a landmark decision by the U.S. Department of Justice successfully made hepatitis B a protected condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“There is still work to be done to end discrimination against people living with hepatitis B. The Foundation is working with partners to advocate for the inclusion of people with hepatitis B in the U.S. military,” Dr. Cohen said. “But this decision brings us one step closer to universal equity, inclusion and justice for people with hepatitis B and HIV in the U.S.”

About Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus that attacks and injures the liver. Each year up to 1 million people die from hepatitis B worldwide, even though it is preventable and treatable. Hepatitis B is a “silent epidemic” because most people do not have symptoms when they are newly or chronically infected. Thus, they can unknowingly infect others and continue the spread of hepatitis B. For people who are chronically infected but don’t have any symptoms, their livers are still being silently damaged, which can develop into serious liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.