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December 30, 2009

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Hepatitis B tests to be banned in China fair-employment initiative

HEPATITIS B virus tests will no longer be included in physical check-ups for school admissions or general occupational recruitment.

The initiative is part of a new policy planned by the state health watchdog to level the playing field for HBV carriers, according to Mao Qun'an, spokesman for the Ministry of Health.

Mao said in Beijing yesterday any restrictions on HBV carriers in schooling or any form of employment would be prohibited.

The policy adjustment will seek public opinion before taking effect, according to the health ministry.

Future tests for HBV will be allowed for medical purposes only and should protect people's privacy, said Deng Haihua, head of the ministry's press office.

However, Deng said liver-damage scans, or ALT tests, would be retained for regular checks on HBV carriers.

Educational institutions and employers could be put under supervision to ensure they have non-discriminatory policies, according to Deng.

China's food-security law has never banned HBV carriers from being engaged in the food industry. However, they suffered wide discrimination at a local level, Deng said.

Thus, he said, HBV tests should be excluded from physical check-ups in the food industry's hiring process.

China started to provide free HBV vaccinations for children from 1992.

A target for HBV vaccinations mapped out this year was expected to cover domestic children born between 1994 and 2001 over a three-year time frame, Deng said.

Transmission of HBV results from exposure to infectious blood or body fluids containing blood and via fluid between mothers and newborns.

Most adults infected with HBV fight it off with a natural antibody and only about 6 percent end up as patients.

Though more than 80 percent of infants carrying HBV will turn into HBV patients, modern treatment methods will protect 95 percent of them from becoming seriously affected by the disease.

Most of China's estimated 120 million HBV carriers were infected before the 1990s as disposable syringes were not widely used, no virus-interception technology was available and many blood-donation facilities lacked efficiency.

However, most of them will be permanent HBV carriers and not become patients.

Health authorities in Shanghai said they would enforce the policy and enhance supervision to guarantee HBV carriers' rights.

From October, HBV carriers in Shanghai had been permitted to be employed in the food industry, the city's health administration said.


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