Why we should screen immigrants for HIV and hepatitis B

The menace of blood-borne infection requires stronger countermeasures

Share

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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A couple hold hands near the shore  

In sickness and in Health: I miss the way we used to live, and the places we lived it

Rebecca Armstrong
Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders joins the Latitude 2014 line-up  

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde - please don't tell other victims it was theirs

Holly Baxter
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory