Meeting News Coverage

Patients feel stigma, discrimination when living with hepatitis

VIENNA — After receiving their diagnoses, patients with viral hepatitis report suffering stigma and discrimination at the hands of family, friends, employers and even health care practitioners, according to a survey presented at the 2015 International Liver Congress.

“Viral hepatitis is not only a silent disease, but also a silencing event,” Marcelo Naveira, MD, of Brazil’s Ministry of Health, said during a press conference at the congress. “There is a need for a broad campaign targeting hepatitis awareness and fight against stigma and discrimination. Given the recent advances in therapy, one can be assured that no true progress has been achieved while those infected by viral hepatitis still have to face stigma and discrimination. These effects might last long after virologic response is achieved.”

Marcelo Naveira

Grupo Otimismo, a support group for people with hepatitis and a nongovernmental organization in Brazil, used an online tool to survey 1,217 people infected with hepatitis B or C, Naveira explained. The 12-question survey looked at discrimination and stigma experienced by patients.

When asked who they informed, 94.1% of respondents told family, 73.7% told friends, 57.4% told a partner and 46.1% told coworkers, but only 31.4% told support groups, 9.1% told a social network and 2.1% told no one. Although 72.45% of patients reported those they told had some comprehension of their diagnosis, 48.9% reported overall indifference.

After diagnosis, 55.8% of patients reported an effect on self-esteem and 41.4% reported feeling shame. More than 40% of respondents reported their diagnoses affected their jobs, friends and sexual relationships; approximately 10% of respondents were dismissed from their jobs due to their hepatitis. Of those that told family members, 24.6% reported family then avoided physical contact and of those who told friends, 23.8% said those friends stopped inviting them to social events.

While 70% of health professionals were reported to treat patients properly, 24.6% reported the practitioners kept a certain distance and 6.9% of respondents were denied care. Patients reported that those places in which discrimination took place were the dentist (21.2%), while getting a manicure/pedicure (17.1%), undergoing tests at a lab (10.8%) or at the gym (4.4%).

“Protection against the damage inflicted by viral hepatitis is a matter of public health and basic human rights,” Naveira said. “It troubles us in Brazil — it worries us a lot — that even in a society so open to change, people still have to deal with consequences of disease like viral hepatitis. We assume in other societies that people face those same consequences.” – by Katrina Altersitz

 

For More Information:

Varaldo CN. Abstract P1275. Presented at: International Liver Congress; April 22-26, 2015; Vienna.

Disclosure: Naveira and Varaldo report no relevant financial relationships.

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