Hepatitis B can be easily managed through early testing and proactive health management. But what about the intangible side effects, such as social ostracism and stigmatization?

A study funded by Gilead Sciences (Asian Liver Index) and conducted among 7,500 respondents across 11 countries or territories is the first of its kind to assess the knowledge, awareness and attitudes of the general public towards liver health and disease in Asia. The study’s findings showed: there is inconsistent knowledge about liver health in the region, a knowledge gap remains on how viral hepatitis is transmitted, and the willingness to screen liver health is yet to improve.

Besides the lack of education and awareness, people with hepatitis B often face structural discrimination, social isolation and negative assumptions. This stigma, as a 2021 report by the World Hepatitis Alliance found, can lead to individuals with hepatitis B facing obstacles such as medical care access, mental health challenges and impediments to their working lives and personal relationships. Therefore, if the stigma can be dispelled it can help encourage people to seek treatment and receive the best healthcare possible.

Professor Mei-Hsuan Lee, Institute of Clinical Medicine at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University and principal investigator of the Asian Liver Index, says: “Awareness is the key trigger that enables care for people living with viral hepatitis to cascade. There is a need to formulate policies to further improve the knowledge, awareness and attitudes of the general public towards liver diseases.”

Taiwan-based Ho Ching Chuan is an example of how local patient voices can be amplified to show the possibilities of living with hepatitis B without fear. In the video, Mr. Ho discusses what happened when he was diagnosed with liver cancer at 40 – a common consequence of hepatitis B. Now, he actively encourages people he meets to attend early and regular screening for hepatitis B and liver cancer. Knowing first-hand the isolation and burden one feels when first diagnosed, he strives to be a pillar of support and to inspire others going through the same.

Professor Lee adds: “Accessible and understandable information for patients must accompany ongoing advances in science and treatment. We should take a whole-of-society approach, with input from academia, healthcare professionals, policymakers and community groups, to first understand real-world challenges facing patients and systematically overcome existing barriers to care towards better liver health in Asia.”