hepinion: stigma and discrimination affects everyone

10 Jul 2019 Lucy Ferrier

Blog by Professor Mohammad Ali, President of National Liver Foundation of Bangladesh

On April 21, 2019, the shocking news came out that Pakistani cricketer Shadab Khan had been ruled out of the series against England prior to the Cricket World Cup 2019 after being diagnosed with hepatitis C. Shadab is a key player of Pakistan, the only specialist spinner in the 15 player squad. It’s really unfortunate for someone just diagnosed with hepatitis C to be withdrawn from their duties, and entirely unnecessary. If a renowned player like Shadab Khan became a victim of discrimination than what about common people?

Globally millions of people face discriminations that restrict their social life, career and personal relationships due to their hepatitis B and C infection.
Discrimination is unethical and a violation of human rights. Hepatitis B and C are simply not transmitted through casual contact.

At the root of this dreadful stigma and discrimination is a poor health education framework, which leads to misinformation becoming the general perception.
Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, where I am from, viral hepatitis is stigmatized among the general public, especially in rural communities. They usually "blacklist" individuals affected by viral hepatitis as they consider them as “bearers of polluted blood” which is dangerous for others. Because of this stigma and discrimination, people are afraid of the test for viral hepatitis. Those who are diagnosed remain silent and don’t like to attend medical centers for treatment as they are afraid of people in the community finding out about their diagnosis. They can be permanently barred from jobs, their social lives destroyed and their dreams lost as they silently face endless discrimination. Furthermore, Bangladeshi citizens working overseas as migrant workers, especially in Middle Eastern countries can be rejected from employment and deported because of their hepatitis B or C diagnosis. They face immense financial loss, psychological distress and the prospect of more social discrimination, which is endless.

Fortunately, Shadab Khan was declared fit for the Cricket World Cup after subsequent test results reflected zero viral load in his blood. Whilst he may go back to his normal life, the same will not be true for many hepatitis B and C patients. These are our brothers, sisters, our friends and colleagues, they are part and parcel of our community. Stigmatisation and discrimination are unjust. Everyone deserves the same opportunities at work, at home, and in the community. It is crucial that we raise awareness of viral hepatitis and educate people so that we can break down stigma and discrimination for good.

"We must raise our voice for those discriminated millions."

I am happy to see the wonderful performance of Shadab Khan, who took 2 important wickets in the second match of the World cup, where Pakistan beat the strong England team. It is a solid example of the successful performance of a hepatitis C affected individual after facing discrimination.

How to tackle discrimination and stigma:

• Advocacy groups should work with the government to make anti-discrimination laws and ensure they are enforced.
• Education and awareness activities need to be undertaken with the community, ensuring people are informed about how the disease is spread and how to protect themselves, utilising the networks of religious and community leaders.
• Stories of those affected by viral hepatitis should be highlighted and widely circulated in the news, especially the stories which break down stereotypes and show a successful life with viral hepatitis.
• Everyone should confront stigma when it is encountered.