Why we should screen immigrants for HIV and hepatitis B

The menace of blood-borne infection requires stronger countermeasures


I tabled an amendment to the Immigration Bill this week to protect our public health from the risk of communicable diseases - specifically blood-borne viruses like hepatitis B and HIV.

We need to know who carries these diseases if we are to treat them, stop the diseases from spreading and, ultimately, eliminate them. These are the first steps - along with prevention measures and, where possible, cures - towards the goal of eradication. In 2012, we introduced a screening programme for immigrants to the UK from countries with a high incidence of tuberculosis before they could be granted a visa for entry. We should now do the same for hepatitis B, HIV and other blood-borne diseases.

As two of our country's foremost hepatologists wrote in the medical journal, The Lancet, last year, "the frequency of hepatitis B infection has risen substantially in the UK as a consequence of immigration". The numbers equate to some 6,500 additional cases of hepatitis B alone every year - and are on the rise. The World Health Organisation recognises viral hepatitis as a global health problem. Its 2013 global policy report on the prevention and control of viral hepatitis also notes that the UK has not established the goal of eliminating hepatitis B.

We will never do so until we tackle the risk to public health from those who carry diseases like hepatitis B but do not know they are carriers - including people entering the country from abroad. I saw many such cases as a GP and firmly believe that the best thing that can happen to you if you have one of these infections is to know about it before it is too late - at least to stop its spread, even if it is too late for a cure. The Chief Medical Officer's annual report included undiagnosed viral hepatitis infection as a major cause of liver disease in the UK contributing to the dramatic rise in liver deaths in under 65s. Unless these diseases are also treated in an immigrant's home country, we also risk burdening our health service with their treatment.

Other countries already have pre-entry screening programmes. Hepatitis B tests are standard in New Zealand. Australia requires all permanent residency applicants over the age of 15 to be tested for HIV, and screening for Hepatitis B is required in certain circumstances. Canada requires all immigrants deemed to have any risk factor to be tested for Hepatitis B. The WHO has called for global immunisation against hepatitis B, and reports that the UK is one of very few that has not got a hepatitis B immunisation programme.

We have already acted decisively to reduce the scourge of tuberculosis. We must tackle the menace of hepatitis B, HIV and other blood-borne infections too. Pre-entry screening is a cheap and effective way of getting the information we need to move a step further to eradicating these killers for good. It is not the only thing we need to do - but it is a critical step we can, and should, take now. I want everyone who carries these diseases to have the knowledge they need to empower them to get treatment.

I want our children to grow up in a hepatitis B-free world - and I want their children to inherit a world free of HIV. It makes common sense to tackle the spread of these diseases now so that this is our legacy to future generations.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Electronics Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul

Believe me, I said, there’s nothing rural about this urban borough’s attempt at a country fair

John Walsh
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor